Persona x Detective Naoto
. . .
March 31 Inside Yagokoro
After spending several busy yet peaceful days with my friends upon my return to Inaba, I told everyone, “I’ll settle the case and return as soon as I can,” parted with them for a short time with painful reluctance, and visited Yagokoro one week after the gravure photoshoot. It was the day before the start of the new school term.
Most of the necessary preparations were being taken care of by the police, and thus on that day, there was nothing in particular that I had to do. Therefore, I took the opportunity to do a preliminary investigation of the Yagokoro department that I owed much to, and at the same time took a walk around the area.
Yagokoro was a mid-sized city with a population of about 400,000 people, and as a city with many commuters, it continued to quickly develop. The sudden expansion of the city created a peculiar phenomenon. There was an interesting gap between Yagokoro Station, with its nearby rows of modern buildings, and the suburbs with a nostalgic feel to them, so much so that it could be mistaken for having fallen into a timeslip.
Having finished my walk, I headed in the direction of the Yagokoro police station so as to give my greetings to Touko-san. The police station was a brick building with a historical feel and immediately stood out in the area around the station, so searching for it was unnecessary.
I passed down a tree-lined street that gave off the feeling of dancing sakura petals and continued into the station. I entered the glass-walled entryway and inquired of the first young policewoman I laid eyes on.
“Is Assistant Inspector Touko Aoi of the Criminal Investigation Bureau here?”
“...Um, please excuse me, but who might you be?”
She was openly questioning me. Thus, I explained, “I am the detective Naoto Shirogane.”
“Eh! You’re the Detective Prince?”
In response to the policewoman’s words, the other people in the station began to murmur as they examined me: “Huh? That Detective Prince?” “You’re kidding, right? It’s the real thing?” “...Huh, so that’s her. She’s smaller than I thought.” Suddenly, the young policewoman whispered in my ear.
“...The truth is, everyone in my family is a fan of yours, Naoto-san. Um, if it’s all right, could I get your autograph...”
The policewoman’s eyes were shining as if her initially suspicious behavior was nothing more than a lie. Immediately, someone cleared his throat loudly from behind her.
“...Hey you, if I remember correctly, aren’t you on duty right now?”
A well-built man in the prime of life was scowling at the policewoman, who said, “P-please excuse me” and quickly departed.
The man introduced himself as the assistant chief. The assistant chief nodded, his brow creased, and said, “I heard from Aoi-kun that you were coming.” I immediately inquired into Touko-san’s whereabouts, and the assistant chief answered with a troubled expression, “Aoi-kun is, uh, at her ‘lover’s’ place... She may mean an eccentric friend who she gets along well with.
“Er, Tetsuma Tsuge, the supervisor of the Special Forensics Division, is a bit eccentric... He’s one of those guys who came to the station from outside, but he’s done things like asking permission to make a laboratory in the basement, and wanting the door to the basement rooms to be on keycard access for security’s sake... Really, it’s unbelieveable.”
The assistant chief commented, though he really was grumbling. He told me that the fifth basement floor was the office of the Special Forensics Division, at the same time as he warned me, “It’s better for you if you don’t stay too long.”
At that point, after taking a careful look at our surroundings, the assistant chief whispered in my ear:
“...Er, the truth is, my wife and daughter are fans of yours, so can you give me your autograph later?”
This time it was my turn to let out, “Haa...” and make a troubled face.
With his card key, the assistant chief opened the door on which was written “Unauthorized Entry Prohibited”, and I proceeded past. It was a brand-new, modern mechanical sliding door that did not seem congruous with such an old-fashioned building.
Because it was on the fifth basement floor, I hit the elevator button. However, though I waited for a time, the elevator did not come. When I checked the display above the door, the number shown had stopped on “B5”. Was it out of order? I was left with no choice but to take the stairs.
I descended into the basement one floor at a time, down the gloomy staircase illuminated by the green emergency light. It was when I was approaching the fourth basement floor. Up until then, the sound of my shoes clicking against the linoleum floor had been the sole BGM, but hectic noises began to echo from the floor below like a rhapsody.
“Hurry! Cut off ‘Genesis’’s power!”
“I-it’s no good! We won’t make it in time!”
“Gah! Dammit! We’ve got no choice! You guys! Everyone hold him down!”
“S-supervisor! ‘Genesis’ is! With our power, we can no longer – w-waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
“...Not working. Oi! You guys! For now, focus on escaping up above!”
An angry roar mixed into the cacophony. The urgency of the situation was evident from both the voices and their words. I flew down several flights of stairs and sped toward the fifth basement level. Along the way, I passed by a mass of people in lab coats.
“Message from the supervisor! Call someone, anyone, as long as it’s not a member of the Special Riot Police!”
When I asked, “What’s going on?” the people in lab coats looked at me as if I was a foreign object, and the most senior among them spoke for all of them when he answered, “It’s dangerous down below! You run too!” His voice held no end of frustration. Leaving behind only those words, the man also climbed the stairs at full speed.
It was baffling. It seemed that I would not understand the situation unless I witnessed it with my own eyes. I hurried to the fifth basement floor.
I came out on a floor with a solid iron door that had been flung open. What lay sprawled out without interruption before my eyes was a bare white floor. It had a dreary feel to it. There were also countless digital, robotic-seeming gauges that I was unfamiliar with lined up neatly on hooks in the wall.
There no doubt in my mind that this facility here was what they called the laboratory. In other words, that meant the people wearing white lab coats who I had passed by not so long ago were researchers. Why was there a laboratory in the basement of a police station...
Before I had time to think, the surprising spectacle developing before my eyes stole my words away, and I stood frozen. It was as if I was watching a scene from a sci-fi movie.
There was a person squatting on the edge of the floor. From his predominantly red and black clothes and his large physique, I deduced that he was most likely male, and from his hairstyle, around twenty years of age. What was surprising was the glint of that man’s eyes. His left eye glowed with a red light that made me think of a laser pointer.
At the man’s side was the crumpled wreckage of an iron door that looked as if it had been hit and squashed flat with a huge hammer. Parts of the man’s surroundings were also damaged. The walls were broken and the floor gouged.
The next moment, I thought the man’s whole body wavered like steam, and he faced this way and began to dash.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was uncommonly fast. His movements were sleek and brought to mind a leopard or puma. From time to time, he used his agile body to jump at the wall or ceiling; he inexhaustibly ran across the length and width of the open floor.
At last, the truth about the man became clear, and I was struck speechless. His black clothes were torn and his skin peeked through. However, that skin was not that of a human. His looks and figure were humanlike, but what was visible underneath the black clothing – could only be thought of as the substance of a machine.
Adding to my surprise, the aforementioned man was facing a certain familiar person.
Standing in the center of the room with her arms crossed in a daunting pose was Touko Aoi. There was no hint of hesitation in her expression; on the contrary, the slight upward tilt of the corners of her mouth could only be interpreted to mean that she was enjoying the situation.
“...Are you trying to say you would dare raise a hand to me, you impertinent brat?”
“Idiot! Touko! Run away now! Genesis’s gone wild; you can’t get through to him now! There’s no way to return him to his original state except to reboot!”
The middle-aged man wearing work clothes cried out and grabbed Touko-san’s shoulder. He was a man who had a much larger figure than the men in lab coats I had passed by earlier. At a glance, he seemed to be the manager, but from what he was saying, the large man was most likely also a researcher.
“Touko-san! What in the world is this? What’s going on?”
The two of them reacted at the sound of my voice. It seemed like somehow they were the only two left on this floor.
“...Naoto, huh. I’ve been waiting for you to come.”
Keeping her eyes on the approaching man, Touko-san answered quietly.
Because I had just arrived a moment ago, I did not understand all the details, but I was able to deduce that the man named “Genesis” seemed to be running wild. The destruction of the walls and floor was most likely the work of the beastlike man. In addition, it was immediately obvious that that extremely dangerous wild man was attacking Touko-san.
“Boy! You’ve got bad timing! Leave the floor now!”
I shook my head at the large man.
“I cannot leave Touko-san and flee!”
Touko-san was an important person to me. Deserting her and escaping by myself was out of the question.
–It was at that moment. Suddenly, Genesis stopped moving and turned his head to look at me.
When I saw him from up close, he was very tall. When compared to that man, I was the size of a child. Those red eyes were focused on me. Was he sizing me up?
I swallowed hard. I immediately took several steps back. I had a bad feeling about this.
“Dammit! That’s why I told you to run!”
Had I been careless, standing out? He had changed targets. Genesis turned his body to face me and rushed at me in a straight line.
I turned nimbly on my heel. I dashed with all my strength back toward the staircase from which I had come. I thought that I might be able to successfully escape if I made it past the iron door. However, it was a futile struggle. Escape was impossible to begin with. It was the same sort of law that said that no one who encountered a tiger in the jungle would be able to get away, no matter who they may have been.
Right away, I was caught by the nape of the neck by Genesis, shoved roughly to the floor, and brought down. The shock ran through my back and the wind was forcibly knocked out of me.
Genesis was right in front of me as I gritted my teeth against the suffocation and pain. Perhaps he was observing me, but he was looking down on me aimlessly. When I looked closely, he was a boy with an intellectual countenance. However, I could not find any sanity dwelling in either of the man’s eyes, whether it was the right with its wide-open pupil, or the left which emitted a burning red light.
In the next instant, his right arm stretched out vigorously toward my neck, his long fingers snapping around my throat like teeth. In that way, the man lifted me with no more difficulty than a child with a stuffed animal and dangled me in midair with one hand.
His fingertips dug in deeply and painfully. “Gu...” A strained noise squeezed out of my windpipe. I used both my hands to try and shake off Genesis’s arm, attempting to resist with all my might. However, in the face of his terrifying physical strength, due to the helplessness of my diminutive stature, I was powerless. My heart was filled more with frustration than with pain.
“Hey! Boy! You okay? Answer me!”
A rough voice echoed across the floor.
“To-Touko, what do we do? Do we shoot him? Aah, but if we screw up, we might hit the boy...”
In the midst of suffocation that felt as if I were drowning, I searched for Touko-san’s figure as my last hope. Why was it? The Touko-san I saw as my vision blurred seemed to be calmer than usual as she watched. Touko-san was smiling.
“Calm down, Tsuge-san. I’ll guarantee Naoto’s future.”
Then, in response to those unbelievable words:
“Y-you’ll guarantee his future – ah! Ohhh! I see, I see! So that’s how it is! If that’s the case, you should’ve said so earlier! Don’t worry me like that!”
The large man called “Tsuge-san” said only words of exasperation as an expression of relief crossed his face.
...Please wait. Why is he relieved? Besides which, what is Touko-san talking about? I don’t understand. Is there some reason for this? Even though I won’t have a future if the current situation continues! Even though I’m about to lose consciousness right now! Even though I will surely die at this rate! I don’t want to die! I mustn’t die! There are still precious people I don’t want to be separated from!
After several more seconds, the intense desire to live also – sank far away into the depths of the ocean, in the midst of despair so deep I could not even groan. Finally, with a “bzt” like the power to a TV being cut off, I ceased to be conscious.
–It was a mysterious world that had neither up nor down, was neither hot nor cold, bright nor dark, wide nor narrow, one that was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
I was drifting idly in that strange space. Then, from somewhere far away, a voice addressed me. It was a voice belonging to neither a man nor a woman.
“I am a reflection of thou.”
That voice did not reach my ears but resounded directly in my mind. Who in the world was it? In the first place, where was this? It simply couldn’t be the afterlife, but at the very least, I could not believe that it was the same world I had existed in just a little while ago.
“Dost thou desire power?”
While I was lost in thought, the voice addressed me once again. I grimaced. I was unable to understand the intention of the other’s question very well with my suddenly confused mind.
“We are brethren. Thou hast the potential to obtain power – dost thou desire power?”
So I told it my current candid feelings.
“I don’t want to die yet. There are still many things I must do.”
I did not know whether or not my answer was correct, but those were my true feelings. I had precious friends who it would be difficult to part from, and there were still infinitely many things I wanted to live to do.
“–Very well. In that case, I shall grant thee power.”
It seemed the other had somehow understood.
“Then what kind of power dost thou desire?”
Yet another incomprehensible question. “Power” was a rather abstract concept.
Right now, if I simply had physical strength, I would be happy. That was because I was frustrated at my own helplessness. If I had more power, I would not lose even to a man larger than myself.
After nodding once, I answered.
“...Yes. I want power! The power to not lose to anyone!”
Though immediately after I answered, a small seed of discomfort sprouted within me. Why was Kujikawa-san’s face in the back of my mind? The words that she had said replayed slowly in my head.
“I’m glad I’m a girl, you know?”
Was that how it was? I had nearly repeated the same mistake again.
“...Excuse me. Please disregard what I just said.”
She had said I was her best friend. I hoped I wasn’t being too conceited, but she accepted me, Naoto Shirogane, as I was. It was similar to how I accepted the “girl” that was Rise Kujikawa as she was. I must not deny myself. After all, that helplessness was also undeniably a part of me.
“I want power. However, I want the power to support someone.”
When I thought about it, Kujikawa-san’s power was also for the sake of supporting “us.”
I should act as my true self, and moreover, constantly do so to the best of my ability. That was what living meant for me, Naoto Shirogane.
A moment later, the voice laughed.
“–Yeah. That answer is just like you – my other self.”
Immediately, my consciousness drifted far away. Just before I shut down, a shadow in the corner of my eye took my own form. Somehow it seemed that I had faced the same Shadow that had previously returned to me. At the same time as I entertained that notion, my consciousness scattered like exploding fireworks.
“–To myself, the power of Amatsu Mikaboshi.”
My lips moved as if possessed. The words that I myself had spoken were as a trigger and my eyelids opened.
What was in front of my eyes was the pure white ceiling belonging to the dreary floor where I had originally been. However, there was one clear difference from when I had lost consciousness before. My gaze rested calmly on the existence floating in midair.
“–This is my... new ‘Persona’.”