Dirty Hands



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The Novel- Chapter Two

chapters cast of characters author bios

Shounen Ou ("The Boy King") by Enokido Youji, Hasegawa Shin-ya
Chapter 2 (Newtype, November 1999)
translated by Mark Neidengard
version 0.1

commercial use of these translations is prohibited


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(TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: "Mikoto" means "Beautiful Lute" and "Ryuugen" means "Dragon Strings"...a nice pairing. The "Earth-Man" ("Tsuchi-Otoko") also makes a nice pairing with the "tsuchi-no-ko" ("earth child") snake.

Mikoto begins life as a student. The tranquil morning recess lasts but a moment, and starting with the memo he received in afternoon class, the time after school unfolds before him fast. And his first fierce battle with Ryuugen too...

Chapter Two: Ryuugen's Gun

A classroom, during morning break. In a corner desk sat Mikoto. It was his first day, and he was dressed in the uniform they had supplied him. He had already attended morning lecture.This was the first time Mikoto had ever attended lecture outside the classrooms of the institute.

It seemed the students at this school had yet to fix on a definite goal, and rather than studying with an eye to a tangible benefit to themselves were merely studying what they were told out of a sense of obligation. But...maybe that wasn't all that different from the people at the institute...

"Having fun in that peaceful schoolhouse?" From the ring around Mikoto's chest came Fluttery's voice.

"Somebody's going to hear you," Mikoto cautioned in a whisper. "Quit talking to me without a good reason."

"Our instructions finally arrived. Apparently the contact person will get in touch tonight."

"Contact person?"

"He goes by the codename 'Earth-Man'....oops. Look's like someone's here."

Mikoto looked up to see a solitary girl approaching.

"Later," Fluttery said, and cut the connection.

"Hi there."

The girl sat down in the desk next to his, watching his face. He had soft-permed red hair and delicately plucked eyebrows, and a not unbecoming pink manicure.

"My name is A-ko", the girl said.

"Are you one of the student council," Mikoto asked.

"Me? Why?"

"That nameplate on your chest." A nameplate just like the student council members had worn yesterday was fastened to the front of A-ko's uniform.

"This's my ID."

"Really. I wasn't given one when they gave me my uniform."

"Oh, that's because you can't get one unless you play the 'game'."

She was probably talking about the "becoming a 'stranger'" game that Ryuugen mentioned. It was a surprise to see that this game was so openly popular. Perhaps it would be a good idea to gather some information.

"I hear you're the one who found U-ta", A-ko said.

U-ta was the name of the dead boy Mikoto had found last night on the riverbank. That "accidental death" had been reported to the whole school over the PA, and everyone had had a moment of silent prayer for him.

"Thank you. I was a good friend of U-ta's." So saying, A-ko gazed awhile at Mikoto's face. Finally, she reached out her arm and grasped his hand. "You're really cute, you know? Just like a Prince."

"Are you sure about this? It was just last night that your "friend" ended up like that."

"But, he's dead already," A-ko said. "You know, you might just get accepted."

"What for? By whom?"

Just then, the bell rang to announce the end of morning recess, and the teacher in charge walked in.

A-ko drew back her arm, and said "See you later."

Afternoon lecture was a movie. Not a digital projection, but an actual moving picture. It seemed like here, drawing the blinds to darken the room and using the troublesome projector was more important than the actual contents of the film. And it also seemed that the objective of the screening was not the contents of the story, but rather the acting.

Mikoto shared this dimension of light and shadow conjured forth by the retro machine with the other students for a while. He was just beginning to become engrossed by the movie when he felt something jabbing him in the back. He immediately tensed. He was positive that until just a little while ago, the desk behind him was empty. There were two levels of blinds that no light would enter the room if someone came or left during the movie, but to think that someone could sneak up on Mikoto, an agent...

Somebody let out a small laugh. It was a girl's voice.

He casually turned around to see the face of that girl called Karin. It was the first time he had seen her eyes up close. Illuminated by light from the screen, her pupils were surprisingly huge. Her expression showed that she obviously thought of him as an enemy.

I got careless.

A friend of the "target" had gotten to close range and snuck up behind him. The object poking him in the back was thin and hard. A knife? A needle? Mikoto was at a loss. Should he give Fluttery the order to attack? But under the circumstances, that would make it at best two-on-one. But shortly, the object in her hand moved away from his back and moved into his field of view. It was not a knife, but a narrow card.

Still vaguely uneasy, he accepted the card.

It seemed that the danger of interrupting the movie with bloodshed was past, at any rate. Sitting in the darkness, he was barely able to make out the card by the light from the screen.

It was postcard-sized, and appeared to be of special manufacture, printed with with decorative letters. Then, in hand-written script, was the following: "To my new friend. I'll be waiting at the pool. RYUUGEN."

Before Mikoto could say anything, Karin put her index finger to her lips, as much as to say "quiet during the movie!"

Left with no other choice, Mikoto put the card into his breast pocket. Guardedly, he turned his back to her and went back to watching the movie. Once again, Karin offered him something with her hand, which he took in silence. This time it was a piece of memo paper, which looked like she had just written on it.

"Don't underestimate him. Don't meet him, and leave this school."

Mikoto stared at the memo for a while, and then took a sheet of notebook paper and wrote a reply.

"Why are you worried about me?"

A moment later, she had written another memo.

"I'm not worried about you. I hate you."

After staring at it for a while, he put it too into his breast pocket.

illustration The pool had been built on the very top floor. Its outer walls were designed to be frameless - large sheets of glass admitted a dazzling amount of light. The design created the impression of a totally transparent, crystalline space, almost as though one were inside a jewel floating in space. Ryuugen was the only one in the 50 meter pool.

Swimming in the clear blue rectangular center course, his magnificent crawl stroke was reminiscent of a sea creature, slowly decreasing in radius. Showing now sign of tiring despite the powerful strokes, his motions were smooth, from his dolphin kick to his turns. Mikoto watched the splendid display of swimming for a while.

Karin was present too, clad in a swimsuit and seated in a deck chair by the poolside.

Ryuugen and Karin. This place seemed to be their private pool.

Karin was coolly reading a paperback in the irregular shade offered by the polarized glass ceiling. Although she must surely have noted Mikoto's entrance to the pool, she didn't even glance at him. Presumably, she was upset because Mikoto had ignored her warning and come anyway.

"Hi. I've been waiting." Seemingly finally becoming aware of Mikoto's presence, Ryuugen interrupted his stroke and climbed up the ladder at the side of the pool. He shook the water out of his hair like a wild animal, and dried himself off with a towel. Perhaps the reason his skin was jet back was that he spent so much time in the pool.

"Why didn't you change into a swimsuit?"

"No doubt. After seeing you having so much fun swimming, I'm regretting it already."

The two sat down facing each other at a table which had been prepared. Ryuugen removed the stopper from a bottle that had been chilled in water, and filled two glasses. "A specialty of my hometown. Don't worry, it's not poisoned."

Mikoto murmured a word of thanks and lifted his glass. The glasses clinked as they touched.

"Where do you live?"

"A lunarium (trans. note: gekkoukan - 'moon-rise-room') on a hillside. Nobody goes near the place, and I have no plans to invite anybody over so it's nice and quiet. Karin and I are quite comfortable there by ourselves. But why did you choose that old room in the city? Wouldn't the school's dormitory been more convenient and more fun?"

"There were no vacancies in the dorm, since my transferral here was rather sudden. Or more precisely, there _were_ some vacancies, but since they all were only 'recently' vacated..." There had been several vacancies in this school's dormitory recently, the result of several "accidental deaths" among the students.

"So, you don't like the thought of dead people's rooms. Are you afraid of death like the others?" Ryuugen said, swirling his glass.

"I don't really know," Mikoto muttered.

"Why not?"

How much did he know about Makoto? And what did he plan on doing with him?

"I don't know how, but it seems you know who I really am. If so, then why are we relaxing together like this?"

"And you really are...?"

"I'm the person who might end up killing you."

Ryuugen laughed. "There's no way a chick or two like that could lay a finger on me. Come to think of it, didn't you bring it with you?"

From around Mikoto's neck came a small electronic beep, and the electronic masculine voice said, "I'm not a chick."

"Shut up, Fluttery," Mikoto chided.

"Wow, it can talk." Ryuugen sounded impressed. "That thing is put together quite well."

"So just who is that girl named Karin?" Fluttery asked. "I've seen her face somewhere before."

"Of course you have. I'm sure you've heard the name Kareena FL before."

"I see, so she's from the FL family." Fluttery sounded surprised. "Talk about top-class prey."

These were names and words Mikoto had never heard. But Fluttery had realtime access to the kingdom's database, and it wouldn't surprise him if Fluttery had more information than he did.

"You'd better remember you're just a bird."

"Don't get cocky," Fluttery replied.

"I can kill you this very instant."

"You wanna try it?"

"That's enough, Fluttery!"

The ring made a small beep, indicating that Fluttery had entered anti-personell mode. This wasn't by Mikoto's command. It was Fluttery's AI running amok. Mikoto was disturbed by how easy Fluttery was provoked to violence. Agents had to put their mission first. He couldn't let it injure Ryuugen without orders.

Ryuugen laughed nonchalantly. Of course, he had no idea how dreadful the paragrine's combat abilities were if it got serious. Even if the walls of this pool were made of anti-artillery glass fibers, the cybernetic bird could rip through them in seconds, and infallibly pierce its target's heart.

Mikoto wondered how many people it had killed. That list was about to get longer. But at that moment, he caught a glimpse of Karin out of the corner of his eye. She had continued to read her paperback, even under the circumstances... But the next moment...

In Ryuugen's other hand, a handgun appeared. A silver gun, with shining emeralds on its grip.

What the...?

Wearing a swimsuit, there was no way he could have been carrying a gun. The only explanation seemed to be that he had pulled it out of some spatial crevice. But that was useless, Mikoto thought. There was no gun in the world that could hit a paragrine in attack mode.

Three seconds to Fluttery's penetration...two...

Ryuugen smiled casually and aimed for a certain spot in space. He pulled the trigger.

The gun made an electronic sound, and a path of light burst into flame. And as he waited and waited, nothing entered the pool.

"I think I scorched his left wing a bit," Ryuugen said.

From the ring around Mikoto's neck, there was only prolonged silence in response.

That evening, Mikoto visited a spacious field near the summit of the hill behind the campus, at Ryuugen's invitation. He gazed at the half-mad "gathering" there.

"Just like a festival, isn't it?"

Many students were making merry here. Expensive (and supposedly illegal) aphrodesiac fireworks were being fired wantonly into the air, and there was singing and dancing all around tents and giant abstract objets d'art. The glow of bonfires illuminated their antics.

Ryuugen explained that this revelry went on every night here.

"Hi, you two." It was A-ko, who had sat next to Mikoto in lecture that morning. She sounded happy she found them. "So, you came."

"You sound happier than I expected," Ryuugen remarked.

Presumably he had realized what U-ta meant to her.

Saying she was okay, and that she's found someone new, she clung to Mikoto's arm.

"Anyways, do you have your ticket?" she asked Ryuugen.

"Unfortunately, no," Ryuugen answered.

"Oh, right. His Majesty doesn't do that stuff," she remarked. "Well, see you later Mikoto. Let's spend some time together next time, okay?" So saying, A-ko kissed Mikoto lightly and disappeared among the students.

While watching her leave, Mikoto asked, "What did she mean by tickets?"

"Around here, 'tickets' means tickets for that game I mentioned. They're the passes to ride on the 'stranger-transfer apparatus'."

"I imagined it was some sort of very naughty game, but it seems to be quite popular right out in the open."

"Why, why don't you try it once? That tent over there is the place."

Ryuugen pointed to a particularly flamboyant tent in the center of the clearing, soaring like something from a circus. Its inside was pitch-black. Its silver snail-like shell pointed toward the starry sky above.

"But I don't have a ticket, do I?"

Ryuugen pulled something like a piece of paper out of his pocket and offered it to Mikoto.

"I've got tickets to burn. But I thought A-ko shouldn't play anymore."

"Is there something dangerous about it? If so, I should probably decline too."

"The more dangerous the game, the more fun it is."

At that moment, quiet applause started at one side of the clearing. Mikoto looked in that direction to see a small lit-up tent theater. There was a girl standing on its stage holding a mic. She began to sing to the accompaniment of the other students.

...will become a morning sun
which melts away your heart
that had been frozen by
someone's insensible words...

For a moment, the sight of her floating in the light of all those in the clearing stole his heart. The surprisingly heartful singing that captivated its entire audience belonged to Karin. Mikoto's face was dispassionate as he regarded the stage, but his heart had already fallen in love with the music.

As though discerning this, Ryuugen said, "Attractive, isn't she?"

"Positively."

Mikoto remembered that he hadn't yet found out what the "FL family" that Fluttery and Ryuugen had spoken of was. Well, he could probably find out from Fluttery later.

"She's my fiancee," Ryuugen said. "You can't steal her unless you kill me."

"..."

"But that bird won't cut it. Until you at least get this gun away from me, you won't be able to kill me." Once again, that silver gun appeared suddenly in Ryuugen's hand. "Well, you couldn't use this thing anyway."

"Where do you keep that thing hidden?"

"This gun's name is Andrea. I'm not keeping it hidden. It's always with me. It appears in my hand whenever I wish."

"That's rather convenient."

Before he finished speaking, Mikoto rapidly kicked the earth, and in a flash jumped from before Ryuugen's eyes. His body twisted in a practiced maneuver, and when he landed on the ground he held Ryuugen's gun in his hand. Its muzzle was precisely aligned with Ryuugen's chest.

"Magnificent. Go ahead and shoot. This may be the only chance you get."

"..." He may be right, Mikoto thought. Everything he said seemed to have the ring of truth. If he didn't pull the trigger here and now, he might never again get the chance to kill him. But at that moment, Karin's singing ceased, and with it Mikoto and Ryuugen's confrontation.

The students around the stage were in a panic. A snake, someone shouted. Sure enough, a giant snake had appeared from somewhere and was on-stage, heading for Karin. Its head, swelled in rage, was unmistakably that of a poisonous snake. It was already reared up, ready to strike. Predictably, the girl stood on the stage, her expression frozen. And without warning, the snake struck like an arrow from a bow. Its fanged head was aiming for her leg, as though to get a grip. Karin didn't even have a chance to scream, and everyone could tell that those fangs would strike home.

But the next instant, there was the sound of a gunshot. And the snake was blown away. Mikoto, with Andrea in hand, had fired. It was a very good shot. Nearby, Ryuugen shouted something in surprise. But Mikoto couldn't hear it. The moment he pulled the trigger, he felt his consciousness slipping away, and still holding the gun collapsed to the ground.

*

When he regained consciousness, he was in his own room. The lights were dimmed, leaving the room shrouded in gloom. Mikoto got out of bed and looked at the clock on the wall. Shortly before midnight. In a corner of the room sat an unfamiliar man. Fat, and much older than Mikoto. Seated in a chair, he examined Mikoto's condition. The ring had been removed and set on the table. But Mikoto was unconcerned. If the man had wanted to kill him, he could have done it long before. "The student council members carried you back here," the man said, his voice half smiling. "I bet you don't remember a single thing."

"You are?"

"Your contact."

"So you must be "Earth-Man". What's that thing hidden in your pocket?"

"Ah, every inch the central agent. You've got sharp eyes." The contact named "Earth-Man" reached into a deep pocket in his coat and brought forth a snake. It looked identical to the poisonous one Mikoto had just shot. Its small red reptilian tongue flicked momentarily out. "It's a midzuchi, an evolved form of a tsuchinoko. Well, unlike that fancy bird of yours it's just a snake, but I'm the only one who can understand its speech. By the way, what you shot just now was its brother. It was a very good friend of mine."

"Why did you attack that girl? Orders?"

Still half-smiling, the Earth-Man answered. "No orders. Just thinking of our country."

"So," Mikoto inquired, "have we received orders to act?"

"No, not yet. For the time being, please spend the night memorizing my face."

"He, the target, knows my true identity."

"That's no particular problem. In any case, I presume you'll never be able to get close to His Majesty again."

"Oh really."

"Yes, really. So you temporarily stole his gun. I have absolutely no idea what you were doing. Even if it was a coincidence, that was one chance in a thousand. And then you went and got in my way. I swear-"

"What was that gun?"

"Well, I don't know the details either. A very troublesome weapon, in any case."

Why had he lost consciousness so suddenly that time? Could it have been the fault of that "Andrea" gun?

Yes. There's something terrifying about that weapon... That's what Mikoto's warrior's instincts told him.

"He's no fool. He won't be this careless again, and I doubt he'll ever let you close again. Well, orders can be carried out even without you. Why don't you just stay in this room until this job's done. At least you won't have to go around losing consciousness. The kingdom should have given this job to me in the first place." The Earth-Man made no attempt to conceal his contempt for Mikoto's disgraceful collapse in front of the target. He seemed to have a grudge against central agents in general.

There came a knock at the door. "You expecting any company?"

"No." The Earth-Man's half-laughter finally vanished, and he tossed Mikoto his ring from the table. Preparing for action, he approached the door. Despite his bulk, he moved quite lightly on his feet. When he opened the door, nobody was there. But there was a card lying on the hallway floor. He picked it up and looked at it for some time, and then gave a small sigh.

"I just can't figure out what young people are thinking."

The Earth-Man showed Mikoto the card. It was a card printed with the same printed design that resembled fancy lettering.

"Leave that room tomorrow and move into my place. The lunarium on the hillside. I'll get things ready and wait for you. Ryuugen."

The "midzuchi" snake poked its head out of the man's pocket and gazed up at its master. After gazing at the snake for a while, the Earth-Man's half smile returned.

"Very well. Let's see how a central agent handles things."


to be continued next issue


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