Chapter 25


Yoko liked to watch people. At least once a week, he made a point of sitting stone-like in a tram station or shopping center with a cup of synthetic fruit juice, and watching the people around him. He kept his eyes wide open; observation had taught him most of what he knew about how people interacted, though it didn’t increase his interest in doing so.

The major south-central tram station was his people-watching place of choice because of the acoustics. The domed roof made sound reflect in odd ways, dulling the conversations of the people nearest him and bringing him snatches of conversation from the opposite platform. It also made the news feeds that played on broad screens above the tracks easier to hear over the sounds of the tramcars. There was rarely anything in the news that interested Yoko, but he liked to keep his ears cocked toward it, just in case.

He sighed into his straw, blowing idle bubbles in his drink. The juice was always a disappointment. The manufacturers seemed to think that they could make up for a lack of actual fruit flavor with too much sweetener. He would have liked to tell them that this was not the case, but didn't think it would make any difference if he did. Complaining wouldn't make fruit more plentiful or any easier to grow.

“--found dead in his home this morning.”

The sound of then news announcer’s voice cut through Yoko’s thoughts and he turned his head to look up at the screen.

He dropped his juice; his chair clattered to the ground as he stood. With juice spreading slowly across the concrete around his feet, flowing down the slight incline toward the edge of the tram platform, Yoko stared is mute alarm at the screen, pinned beneath his brother’s green gaze.

“Dr. Kouhei was founder of the independent Metraiel Research Group, which worked closely with the government on a variety of projects, including bio-engineering of edible plants for the Ministry of Resources and weapons development for the military police.”

Tokoyo’s picture faded from the screen and was replaced by what looked like video feed from that morning, depicting a number of SPD operatives milling around outside what Yoko recognized as his brother’s house.

“Though Solace Police are not releasing any information concerning the death,” the announcer plowed on, “we have it from an anonymous source that Dr. Kouhei’s body was found in an alarmingly advanced state of decay for a man who couldn’t have been dead for more than fourteen hours.”

Yoko had drawn closer to the screen and the platform edge without noticing himself moving. He was snapped out of his daze by an express tram whirling through the station without stopping, blowing his bangs out of his face and tugging at the hem of his shirt as it passed. When he stepped back, he could feel the vibration of his phone in his pocket.

“Have you seen the news?” Hiroki’s voice greeted him. “You should have been there, Yoko-kun. He was in the tub. He’d filled it with ice--no water, just ice cubes--and the temperature in his house couldn’t have been above freezing. I could see my breath when I walked in, and they’d had the door open and outside air circulating around for over an hour by then!”

Yoko did not reply immediately. He glanced back up at the news feed, but a different announcer filled the screen, discussing SPD procedure concerning the release of information on a potential crime scene to the media. Lowering his gaze, he raked the station with his eyes, and began to retreat to a flight of stairs that led down to a skyway. Unsettled, he didn’t want to be among so many people anymore.

“I wasn’t called,” he said, when he realized how long the connection had been filled with silence.

“No, they informed me first.” Hiroki didn’t sound perturbed by the long pause. He didn’t sound upset either. Yoko could detect only vague curiosity in his voice, as though the news feed had been about something quaint and novel, but not worth his effort to form an opinion on.

“You’re his half-brother,” Hiroki continued, pulling Yoko out of his thoughts. “Since he and I share the same parents on record, they called me first. I had to go identify him. You really should have been there.”

It was as though he’d been to a cleverly plotted play. “You could have called me.”

“They wanted to question me before I contacted anyone. They’ve been having at me until just an hour or so ago, and then I had all this paperwork to fill out. You know, they said his system was so degraded they can’t even use him for compost? He has to be cremated.”

On the skyway now, Yoko quickened his pace. Hiroki’s tone was deepening his discomfort. “Do you know what happened?”

“Based on the evidence, they’ve ruled out homicide and suicide, though I have no more idea than you do what that leaves them with. It’s really got them baffled. They’ll be calling you later, anyway, so you’ll probably hear plenty about it.”

“Me? For questioning?”

“Yeah, I think so, but I think it’s just a formality.” Hiroki laughed, the sound ringing too pleasantly in Yoko’s ear. “If they really thought that it was murder and that either of us were involved, they wouldn’t have released me before speaking to you.”

Yoko had to agree.

“I wouldn’t worry, though,” Hiroki went on. “I mean, you have no information about the situation that they don’t. They’ll leave you alone soon enough. Oh!” he added, as though it were just occurring to him. “We’ll be settling his accounts tomorrow. I’ll come by with the paperwork, shall I?”

Yoko murmured an affirmative and hung up the phone. He knew more about the situation than even Hiroki suspected, but he wouldn’t be sharing that with anyone, let alone the SPD.