[short story] rohan kishibe does not shout : the censored equation

1462128614827

The Censored Equation

Written by Yusuke Iba

Based on Hirohiko Araki’s “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure”

Original story in Japanese can be found here.

“Sorry for the wait. Here are the annual reports from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and three academic journals from Ohio State University on the discovery of the Wow! signal.”
“Thanks. Just leave them there,” I said, looking up from faded letters that were printed decades ago.
The white desk where my writing utensils and a notebook had been spread out only moments ago was now piled high with books and magazines that I had requested. Even the corner of the desk that had barely escaped the encroachment of books somehow got occupied by a serving of iced coffee.
Drinking the now lukewarm coffee in one gulp, I finally noticed that the young man standing in front was looking down at both me and the mess of books surrounding me with suspicion.
“You’ve got a look on your face that wonders if I’m really going to be using all of these reference books… I am. I want to know how research institutions and the U.N. work when they’ve come into contact with extraterrestrial civilizations. The more realistic it is, the more it will hold my readers’ interest.”
It all started three days ago.
An editor from Shueisha asked me to write a short story with “encounters with the unknown” as the theme.
“While I say encounters with the ‘unknown,’ it can be anything. Like discovering ancient ruins on the ocean floor or a new butterfly species in the Amazon rainforest… How about it? Would you be willing to take on this request?”
But, well, when it comes to encounters with the unknown, it can only be about alien lifeforms.
The day after I accepted the offer, I decided to visit the library of a nearby university in Morioh. I’d already read most of the books in Morioh’s local library that I had interest in, and I thought it would be a nice change of pace to visit somewhere unfamiliar.
When I stepped up to the air-conditioned checkout desk, identified myself, and asked to be allowed to browse their shelves, it turned out that the library director was a fan of mine. He led me to a small empty conference room so that I wouldn’t be disturbed by university students, and even assigned a staff member to help me find what I wanted.
That staff member was a man slightly younger than myself, named Chikamori. His hair looked like he had just aroused from sleep, but he wore a clean white button-down shirt and ironed khaki chino pants. A student ID card hung around his neck. According to what I heard as I was ushered to the conference room, he was a graduate student who was assisting at the service counter and acting as the library’s information guide during the university’s summer break.
When Chikamori heard that I wanted him to collect all of the books and magazines there were on extraterrestrial civilizations, he returned with truly a wide variety of books. There were children’s illustrated books on space science, periodical journals from astronomical observatories around the world, papers on astrobiology and astro-linguistics, reports on radio signals received by the Earth throughout history, even copies of copies of what looked like further copies of ancient manuscripts written in languages that I didn’t even know. As I perused them, my ideas grew rapidly.
Radio waves emitted from an extraterrestrial civilization. Scholars from all over the world trying to analyze them to find out what it said. I had about nine different ideas for the punchline, but I think I’ll choose the one that best fits the plot that comes out of it.
“…Why do humans go looking for aliens?”
As I casually murmured this, Chikamori standing nearby put a hand to his chin.
“Well, let me think… I guess it’s because it would be lonely if we were the only ones in this wide universe. Or it could be that people want to meet friendly aliens who will share their advanced technology with us.”
“If it was hostile aliens, they’d attack us. That on its own is pretty interesting.”
But would it be too easy for the punchline to be that the mysterious radio waves were the aliens declaring war?
“Hmm.”
Chikamori was nodding along without showing much interest, but since I was just organizing my thoughts out loud, I didn’t care.
“What I think is that most people looking for aliens don’t have a hard logic behind it.”
“Uh-huh… Then why do it?”
I tapped a finger on the SETI report in one hand. “They simply want to know if they’re out there. More than 500,000 people try to capture radio signals from extraterrestrial lifeforms day and night just to satisfy that curiosity. Maybe curiosity is more of an incentive than money or honor could ever offer.”
“Hmm.”
Chikamori seemed to be a man who was completely indifferent to things he wasn’t interested in, but it was better than having fake interest pointed my way, so I liked him a lot more for it.
“Do you believe in the existence of aliens, Chikamori-kun?”
Upon hearing the question, Chikamori gave his usual “Hmm” and paused in his sorting through the books. “Are you aware of the Drake equation?”
“Don’t make fun of me, I know that much. That’s the equation you use to calculate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations, right?”
The Drake equation is an equation invented by astronomer Frank Drake. By setting values such as the probability of a planet being born into this galaxy, the probability of life occurring on that planet, and how many of that was intelligent life that survived after establishing civilizations where interplanetary communication was made possible, then the Drake equation would help us to estimate the number of technological civilizations that existed in our galaxy today.
What’s important about this equation is that even if you went with extremely pessimistic values, the solution was almost always greater than one. This implies that there are indeed technological civilizations other than Earth in this galaxy.
That was how one of the books that I’d just read described it, anyway.
“To be more precise, it is the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy that could make contact with Earth. It’s like another version of the Fermi estimate.”
I lowered my crossed legs, rested my cheek on the desk, and glanced at Chikamori, who was stacking the books that I’d finished reading onto a cart. What was the Fermi estimate?
“…You sure know a lot on this.”
“Mathematics is my major.”
Chikamori lifted the student ID card hanging around his neck. The plastic card had “Shingiin University, Graduate Student, Dept of Mathematics and Science, Yuuto Chikamori” on it.
“What kind of research do you do as a math student?”
“The same thing that we did as children. I solve equations day in and day out.”
Chikamori smiled and gripped the handle of the full book cart.
“The Drake equation has always been said to be incomplete, even when it was first published. It doesn’t take into account the possibilities of colonized planets where advanced civilizations would build, or of new civilizations re-emerging on planets where intelligent life had previously died out. However, I think it is very significant that it made the step to replacing the question of ‘Are there aliens out there?’ with numbers and pursued the answer in a more logical fashion.”
So, he was the type that became chatty once his field of study was involved.
I looked away from Chikamori and placed both hands behind my head, leaning back in my chair to look up at the ceiling.
“Well, once you put numbers to it, the mystery is taken out of it.”
“You’re right. The mathematical numbers that we usually use take something vague and bring it down to a level that we can understand. Kind of like a translation device.”
The conversation stopped there.
After that, Chikamori, who had been working in a tireless circle of delivering relevant books to me and returning them, kept glancing at me, but eventually he took out a notebook and began to immerse himself in some sort of calculations.
I finished writing up a simple plot outline on a piece of lined paper that was close at hand, and rubbed my tired eyes. As I stretched up high in my seat, I said, “Chikamori-kun, I’m done. I’ve gathered most of the information that I needed.”
Chikamori looked up from the notebook in his hand and laid his pen in it. “Glad to hear it. Is there anything else I can help with?”
“No, I’m good. I’ll just clean up my mess.”
I stood up from my seat. The books had scattered everywhere in a messy manner that surprised even myself. As I reached for them, Chikamori stood up hurriedly as well.
“I’ll handle the rest, Rohan-sensei. Don’t trouble yourself with that. Just leave your admission card at the circulation desk.”
“Is that right? Then thanks. You’ve helped me out a lot.”
After I watched Chikamori leave the conference room with a mountain of books on his cart, I began to pack my things. I folded the paper with the plot written on it and tucked it away in my notebook, threw my writing utensils into my pen case, stacked my photocopied materials lined with too much yellow highlighter together with a binder clip, and then the worn-looking notebook next to it—
What’s this?
I raised an eyebrow when I noticed the unfamiliar notebook on my desk, but quickly connected the dots. It was Chikamori’s notebook.
—The same thing that we did as children. I solve equations day in and day out.
After staring at the notebook for a few seconds, I slowly reached out and opened to the first page.
Just as Chikamori had said, there was some sort of equation written in small print that filled the entire page. Of course, it wasn’t a simple one that was taught for middle schoolers or high school students to learn. Numbers and Greek letters were lined up in all directions, boiled down into incomprehensible symbols. It looked more like an avant-garde piece of art with mathematics as its theme instead of an actual mathematical equation.
“…?”
And strangely enough, the right half of the page that contained the equation had been wildly torn off. The equation was cut off right in the middle, but I couldn’t tell whether it was done on purpose or if Chikamori had done it by accident.
The next page and the page after that was filled with equations that appeared to have been written by Chikamori, but as I flipped through them, I noticed another strange thing.
Every page had the exact same equation written on them.
I am not particularly skilled in mathematics, so I couldn’t tell what this equation was trying to derive. But on every page, the same equation was lined up at the top while various annotations were written at the bottom. As I strained my eyes to read those annotations—
A sound.
I turned around and saw Chikamori standing there, having opened the door to the conference room. It seemed that he had stopped in his tracks when he saw me looking at the notebook.
I was a little embarrassed, but what the heck. There was no point trying to cover myself up when I was caught red-handed. The only thing to do at this point was to own up to it.
I slapped the notebook shut and took a step towards Chikamori so that I could hand it to him.
“Is this equation your research project? You looked like you were working on it very intently…”
“Warning, Avertissement, Advertencia, تحذير, предупреждени, Aviso, warnung. Permission is required to view. P3rmission is r3quir3d t0 vi3w.”
I took a step back.
I kept my distance and stifled my breath. My shoulder bag had dropped to the floor long ago. I laid the notebook in my left hand onto the desk and slid it across, but Chikamori’s gaze didn’t move an inch. I brought my right hand to the front of my body to prepare for an attack at any moment.
Chikamori didn’t move.
After murmuring in a mechanical voice, that reminded me of metal, the same word in various languages of the world and a few mysterious words after that, his eyes had moved sharply up top so that I was seeing the whites of his eyes.
For some reason, I felt as though someone else was watching me.
“…I’m sorry for looking at it without your permission.”
Whatever it was, the first thing I needed to do was gather information.
I made a face as contrite as I possibly could, and spoke to him in an apologetic tone. “I was curious on what exactly you were researching— Hey! Are you listening?”
I brought my fingers to his face and snapped twice. Chikamori made a small, fluttering blink, and returned his gaze to me.
“Is something wrong?”
That was what I wanted to ask.
Generally speaking, I think that if someone that I’d just met that day showed the whites of their eyes at me and said something incomprehensible, then they deserved to be attacked. Even more so when they made such a strange warning like that.
But the feeling that someone else was gazing at me as I received that warning bothered me. If someone was watching this place, I didn’t want to bring out my Stand until I knew more.
“Chikamori-kun.”
I grabbed the notebook that had only made it to the middle of the desk, and handed it to him. Chikamori’s smile returned and he took it.
I guess I’d have to resort to the more classic method of information gathering.
“The equation that’s written in this notebook… What is it?”
As soon as I said that, Chikamori’s smile froze.
“What do you mean?”
“Drake’s equation is supposed to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations that are capable of contacting mankind, right? Then that equation should play a role as well. It looked like a bunch of nonsensical symbols to me, though.”
Hearing this, Chikamori brought the notebook in his hand slowly to his chest.
After a few moments of hesitation, he said very carefully, “…This equation calculates how to access another dimension.”
“Another dimension, huh?”
I wondered if people who studied mathematics were a bit odd, after all. But Chikamori seemed to be aware that what he’d said could be misinterpreted, because he continued: “You might laugh at me for talking about different dimensions, but nowadays the M-theory, which encompasses the superstring theory, makes it not unlikely for the possibility of other dimensions to exist—”
“Stop, stop! Can we just skip the complicated stuff?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I got too excited. Not even my friends in the department bother to listen to me…”
Chikamori, who had begun to lean forward eagerly, scratched his head in embarrassment. After we smiled at each other,
“…Are you able to access this other dimension, then?”
“Only if I can solve this equation.”
I put a hand to my chin and squinted at him.
Was he teasing me? I’ve seen too many people try to dramatize a story that had happened to them in amusing ways in order to get me interested in using it for my manga. But Chikamori didn’t look like he was just telling a random story, and I still didn’t have a single answer about the warning he made when I saw the equation. And above all, I found it all very interesting.
In the end, that was what was most important.
“I like that idea. If you don’t mind, would you let me gather information on that equation so that I can write about it?”
“But what about your story on radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations that you were researching on all this time…?”
“I don’t care about the cosmos anymore.”
Besides, exploring a mysterious equation was also an “encounter with the unknown” in a broad sense.
Chikamori gave a small sigh, then tapped the cover of the notebook in his hand.
“This equation uses coefficients related to spatial structure and physical constants to look for numbers that would be the key to accessing another dimension.”
“But you still haven’t solved it yet, right?”
Chikamori nodded.
“The reason for why this equation isn’t solved is quite simple— because it is incomplete.”
He nearly slammed the notebook onto the desk and pointed to the torn part of the equation on the first page.
“This equation was contrived by another student at this university. I merely inherited this notebook from her. This part was already torn up by someone when I had received it.”
“Then why not ask the student who came up with this equation?”
“She collapsed while trying to solve it.”
Chikamori continued talking as I looked at him questioningly.
“It’s been almost three years since she collapsed and she still hasn’t regained consciousness. Maybe she’ll never recover. I’m still struggling to figure out what to put in the second half of the equation to make it work. But I want to solve it, no matter what.”
“Are you feeling the drive of a mathematician’s passion? …I’m sorry to tell you this, but I don’t think there’s a point to spending time on something you can’t solve.”
Chikamori stiffened briefly at those words, but then slowly shook his head.
“The one who collapsed… She’s my girlfriend.”
After that, Chikamori went quiet.
Seeing this, unfortunately, I felt my interest ebbing away.
“…I see.”
It was me who’d said that I wanted to cover the story.
Which was why I couldn’t dare to mention that, honestly, this story seemed a bit fishy.
An equation that was able to access another dimension was interesting enough, but someone had torn a part of that equation off? His own girlfriend had collapsed? And he still couldn’t solve it? I mean, who even talks about private details of their life like that to someone they’d only just met?
Chikamori stared at me intently.
I stared back at him, pretended to give a thoughtful nod, and shoved my writing utensils and notes into my shoulder bag.
“It’s an interesting equation. I’ll go home and work on a plot to see if I can turn it into a short story. Thanks for your help today. You’ve been great.”
“…She doesn’t have long.”
The words that came out of Chikamori’s mouth had such urgency in them that they stopped me as I started getting ready to leave.
“Even her doctor has thrown in the towel. I was told that she’s slowly deteriorating and could die at any moment. If that’s the case, then, I’d like to at least fulfill her last wishes.”
Chikamori’s words carried weight. They had the weight of three years in helplessness that he must have spent.
“The reason I’m telling you this, Rohan-sensei, is because I think that by publicizing this equation to a wider audience, that might help me to gather enough clues to solve it.”
I dropped the bag that I’d just slung over my shoulder onto the desk and crossed my arms.
I wouldn’t have to investigate more into his background before proceeding. There aren’t many people in this world that you can trust right after you’d met them. But I did believe that people with mutual interests was one of the few exceptions.
“What do you think? Will you use this equation for your short story?”
A result always came with a cause of some kind. There had to be a reason for why Chikamori’s girlfriend had collapsed while solving the equation. I could practically hear my own curiosity welling up inside me.
Curiosity was a greater incentive than money or honor, after all.
I looked into Chikamori’s eyes, who was looking back at me solemnly, and nodded slowly.
“I promise you on that. By the way… I sympathize for all of the bad luck surrounding you. It’s awful. Heartbreaking, even. Three years, huh? I can only imagine what it must have been like for you to think about your girlfriend for that long and work on that equation with the sole intention of putting her last wishes to rest. If there’s anything I can do, please tell me. —By the way, just out of curiosity, where is the hospital that your girlfriend is staying?”
Chikamori was clearly embarrassed.
“…I’m sorry, but that’s…”
The feeling that someone was watching me had disappeared completely.
“It’s fine, it’s fine. I understand. It would be weird to go around telling someone you’d just met the location of the hospital where your girlfriend is staying. Now, can you take a look at my right hand?”

***

After Chikamori had graciously provided me with information, I bade him goodbye and went to visit the hospital where Chikamori’s girlfriend was hospitalized. I remember that it took place at around 5 in the afternoon.
I picked up a visitor’s card from the nurse’s station on the fourth floor, and looked at the list of this floor’s inpatients that was posted inside the station while I was at it. Her name was marked with a red circle magnet.
I walked towards her room, twirling the strap of the cardholder with my fingers.
The hospital corridors were filled with an indescribable sense of desolation. As I walked past stretchers full of medical equipment, the distinctive smell of the hospital’s disinfectant soap hit my nose.
—I had falsified Chikamori’s memories before coming here. Because it would be troublesome if I ended up running into him at the hospital, I had rewritten in his brain that he’d been working at the library’s service counter since the morning.
I found the room that I was looking for, disinfected my hands with the sanitizer hanging on the railing, and pulled open the door.
She must have been the daughter of a wealthy family, because even though she had been in the hospital for three years, it was a private room.
I glanced down at the woman lying on the white bed. She was unconscious, but breathing on her own. About the age of a college student. Just like Chikamori had said.
I pulled out a pale green round-seated stool from against the wall and sat down beside the bed. A fresh arrangement of yellow gerbera daisies sat in a vase on the shelf beside the bed.
I activated my Stand with my right hand.
Her hollowed cheeks changed into a laminated pattern. Exhaling slowly, I traced the thin, peeling pages with my fingers, and turned the first page.
Starting from her childhood memories, I read carefully and deliberately.

Excitement, discomfort, pleasure, surprise, curiosity, nervousness, relief, uneasiness, fear, a big house, vaulted ceilings, a giant dog, the scent of cypress tickling my nose, a study room surrounded by books, the loneliness and helplessness in elementary school when my parents relocated to a different city and I had to leave my friends, the bittersweet memories of my first love in middle school, the closing party that I attended still covered in sand after the sports festival in high school, the surprise I felt in college when I went on my first date with Chikamori and was taken to a fishing pond for some reason.

—I believed that the essence of my Stand, “Heaven’s Door,” laid here.
While a person could only experience their own life, I could relive the lives of others in the form of “books,” which allowed me to see things more deeply, more multifacetedly and objectively. All of it was inputted into the single individual known as Rohan Kishibe, where it was chewed on by curiosity, swallowed by imagination, and reconstructed into a story with wisdom, skill, and creativity, which in the end was outputted into the form of a comic.
My hand stopped when I saw the word “equation” appear on the page of her cheek for the first time. It was in the early fall of her third year of college, which also matched Chikamori’s story. And when I touched her cheek again—
“…”
The feeling of someone watching me.
I looked up towards the door of the hospital room. The door was still closed.
I took a few deep breaths to calm my palpitating heart.
It felt similar to when you read aloud the wrong paragraph in the school textbook and the eyes of your entire class looked at you all at once. It only lasted for a moment, but I broke out into a cold sweat and I felt my hairband getting damp.
As I slid my fingers across her cheek again, I felt a stare on me from behind.
I quickly turned around, but there were only large window panes behind me. A quiet residential area lived below beneath the blue-black summer sky, and a tall Owson sign stood just in front of me. Naturally, there was no one looking back at me. At the convenience store were three children enjoying their summer vacation, eating ice cream next to their parked bicycles.
I looked down at the page again, forcing down that itching feeling of eyes on my back. And then, I turned the page.

—As I was carrying old library documents from the new university library to the lab, I found a thick dust-covered journal in a gap between the library shelves. The journal belonged to a physicist who had once been a student at this university, and he had recorded in it his ideas for accessing another dimension.

This was it.
Sitting back in my chair, I turned the page of her cheek.

I forgot about transporting the documents to the lab and went to the university’s cafeteria, becoming engrossed in that journal.
The equation that was constructed based on the ideas recorded there suggested the possibility that even we, who are constrained to three dimension, could access spaces of different physical laws by solving a few mathematical problems.
A few mathematical problems, which were divided into three major ones.
First point, I did not know the constants.
Constants are like an anchor, the only numbers that remain unchanged in a constantly shifting equation. You can’t solve the equation if you don’t know the constants.
In this equation, the answer you reached substitutes the constant for the next equation, and the process repeats endlessly. Sometimes the answer could be one digit, sometimes seven digits. In other words, there was no other way but to calculate one by one. It took me about fifteen minutes to verify just one number.
Second point, operations done by computer made no sense.
Theoretically, there are 4,194,304 possible constants that can be thought up, which is the 11th power of the 4th dimension.
Even if there were ten billion different calculations, a computer could be done with those calculations as I was drinking tea. But what actually happened was that the computer’s calculations would never end, and seemed to go on forever, like pi. I realized that this equation was not something that I could just solve.
This was a little more tricky.
Substitute the answer you reach for the constant in the next equation, and repeat the process endlessly.
In other words, this equation can only be solved once at a time. I wouldn’t be able to adopt a human-wave tactic of having 4,194,304 people attacking the equation at the same time in order to finish the calculation in one go.
And third point, someone was watching me.
Since the very moment I came up with the original form of this equation, I have constantly felt the presence of someone watching me. That feeling gradually grew stronger as I worked on the calculation, which I think is a sign that I am getting closer to its solution. This feeling was the only thing that changed while I calculated the equation.
When this feeling reached its critical point, something was going to happen.
And whatever happened would be the real solution to this equation.
Of course, it is near impossible to do nearly 4.2 million calculations without a computer. I asked for help from my professors and friends, but they refused, saying that the idea of accessing another dimension was ridiculous.
But I could not give up.

I stopped turning the pages for a moment.
The memories that I read through Heaven’s Door were usually just a list of facts, but her memories concerning the equation were unusually detailed and easy to understand. Perhaps these memories were just that impressive in her mind.
Because I didn’t have any paper nearby, I wrote on my arms to make my own calculations.
If four constants could be assigned to an hour, and let’s say she worked on it for eight hours daily for 365 days, then the numbers she could use to substitute in a year was 11,680. At that rate, it would take about 360 years to finish calculating all of the numbers.
I touched her cheek, trying my best to ignore the stare that still pierced my back.
Now, let’s find out how she didn’t give up.

I thought about it this way.
Although I had borrowed the idea from a physicist, it was hard to believe that the equation I’d come up with was the first to be discovered in the world. There had to have been someone else, in history, besides me.
I’d thought right.
If you paid close attention, you can find traces of it everywhere in the world: in the margins of the Dutch translation of “Anatomische Tabellen,” in the blue sky of the Monet painting collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a placard that someone held up during the televised coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the margin of a newspaper’s advertisement column the day after the terrorist attacks on America, in the opening video of a Kohaku Uta Gassen from a couple of years ago. The dates and constants left on them may have looked like a mere string of numbers, but they were the results of research made by putting someone’s life at stake.
They were unraveling the equation.
They were brute force attacks of human effort that had been passed down and inherited for hundreds of years. Even though we do not live in the same time, I am not alone.

I stopped turning the pages and reached for a bottle of mineral water. As I turned the cap of the sweating plastic bottle and drank deeply, I felt the nice sensation of cold water filling my stomach.
—Perhaps this was how it went.
Those who come upon this equation must have arrived to the same conclusion as their predecessors, and guessed that those predecessors must have left their mark somewhere.
Therefore, the first thing to do is the investigate the research results.
And if they look carefully, they find clues all over the world that tell them ‘I calculated this far for whatever number of years, to this date’. Then, taking the number that was calculated on the most recent date, they substitute that to uncover the next number.
They didn’t need to find their own successor or even tell anyone what they had calculated. Only those who found value in this equation would be the successors.
Once this equation was solved to its end, what would happen? That curiosity was the only thing that had kept them going.
There were only a few more pages remaining on her cheek.

Two years after I had started calculating the equation, I was troubled by the feeling that someone was watching me. It was to the point that it interfered with my daily life.
I couldn’t stand the feeling of someone hiding behind me, so I started to put my back against the wall as much as possible. I was no longer able to walk the streets alone at night, and I started going back to the dormitories in the company of friends. I couldn’t stand doors or curtains even being the slightest bit open.
But this was also proof that I was getting closer to the solution.
I realized that perhaps the next number, or the one after that, would be the constant that I was looking for.
And once I realized this, I felt a bottomless fear of the equation that I had been trying so hard to solve all this time.
The stare I feel is more like that of one condemning a crime, not that of one looking compassionately over their child. I was not so foolish as to not know what it meant.
I wondered if I should explain my situation to the man that I was dating, but in the end, I decided not to. It seemed cruel to give him unnecessary information when I didn’t know what would happen after the equation had been solved.
I had once filmed an hour-long video where I went into great detail about the equation. I was confident that, with this much detail, anyone would be able to understand the equation, but when I played back the video, I found a video of myself issuing endless warnings in English, Spanish, Arabic, and so on. I am only fluent in Japanese, English, and Esperanto, the artificial language that I learned at university. In all other languages, I only knew basic greetings.
On another day, I intentionally left the notebook in the lab opened to the equation written on it. However, no one seemed aware of the equation as a written medium. Even more interestingly, if a part of the equation was missing, the rest of the equation was visible to others.
This was probably the reasons for why the equation was not widely known. It was as if the equation itself refused to be solved.
—And this was why I could not stop myself from working on it.
I could not ignore the persistence of our ancestors who had devoted their wisdom to solving this equation for the past 500-odd years, and more than anything, I wanted to know for myself what would happen if I solved the equation.
Curiosity is the fundamental need that makes us human.
I left the results of my research everywhere I could. I asked people that I knew within the country and abroad to spread it, adding 100 to the constant that I had found.
This way, the next person who tries to solve the equation will be unable to solve it because they would be using the wrong constant. I felt uncomfortable about abusing our history and tradition, but if the equation was solved and nothing happened, then all of the details could just be revealed then.
Besides, even if something did happen to me, then at least perhaps this equation would be solved in the far, far future.

With each turn of the page, I could feel the number of stares on my back increasing.
The gaze went beyond anything that came from a physical mass, but it didn’t stop my trembling fingers.
There were only a few pages left.

—On that day, I solved the equation by substituting a constant.
The constant was 3286764. After some complicated calculations, the solution pointed to D = 37. Neither the constant, nor the solution, nor the number itself had any meaning. What’s important is what happened after.
Instantly, I noticed that the gaze that had plagued me for two years was gone.
What in the world was going to happen next?
I continued to sit in my chair, bracing myself. It read 2:17 AM on the clock. There was no one else in the lab. In this room, where I could hear nothing but the air conditioner and the sound of the computer running, I must have waited for about three minutes with my eyes closed.
I slowly opened my eyes.
The computer display in front of me was still showing the equation and solution that I had typed in.
I let out a big sigh and looked up at the ceiling.
It felt so anti-climactic.
I’ll try the same thing again tomorrow, and if still nothing happened, then I’ll give up.
I wasn’t worried that my two years spent might have been a grand waste of time.
“Can you tell me your greatest achievement in college?”
“Yes. I discovered and worked on an equation. It was an equation that’s been studied all over the world, and something that I’d inherited through time.”
Yeah, this would make for good material in future job interviews.
I cheerfully got up from my chair, shut down my computer, and put on my backpack stuffed with books and lecture notes. I stopped in front of the door of the lab, where I had to write my name and the time I was leaving on the sign-in/sign-out chart posted on the door.
I glanced at the clock on the wall. It was 2:26 AM.
I wrote 0226 in the box for time left, and 7866194 in the box for my name.
I thought I was seeing things.
But no matter how many times I looked it over, my name was still a string of numbers.
—Someone is standing behind me.
I felt their presence so unmistakably that I turned around reflexively, letting out a small scream.
There was no one there.
But all of the letters that surrounded me had been changed into numbers.
The letters on the spines of books lined along full shelves, the printed words on flyers scattered on the floor, the words on the computer’s shutdown screen, a sign someone had grabbed from the cafeteria that had said “Chilled Chinese food now available,” the label on the plastic bottle of oolong tea that I had been drinking from, the notice on the wall about the eighth annual lab barbecue competition, it all changed into lines of cold, robotic numbers.
The moment all of the numbers changed to “5” at the same time, a hair-raising anxiety crawled through my body. When the numbers changed to “4,” it became a certainty.
A countdown after I’d gotten those repeated warning looks.
When this countdown reached “0,” something was going to happen.
I leapt for the notebook that I’d left on my desk, as my heart beat explosively in my chest.
I needed to erase this equation before someone saw it.
Or more precisely, I needed to erase the ideas of the physicist that had led to this equation.
On the first page of the notebook, he had written the equation and various annotations around it, but they too had all been turned into meaningless numbers.
I tried to rip out that first page that had the equation written on it, but my hands were trembling so badly that I only took the back half of the equation and the physicist’s idea. But as long as the physicist’s idea was lost, there wouldn’t be anyone to solve the equation.
Everything became “3.”
Three seconds left. Not even enough time to leave this lab.
The lab’s paper shredder was just diagonal of my position in the room. There was no time to shred my research notes.
I had to get rid of this piece of paper that I’d ripped out right here and now.
All I saw around me was a computer, a display, cables stretching in every direction, a half-full plastic bottle of oolong tea, my backpack, piles of paper scattered on the floor, a wooden desk, a stack of papers, a garbage bin,
—Do I throw it in the garbage bin?
No. I don’t know what will happen to me, but if it ends up involving the police, they will search the contents of the garbage bin.
Do I hide it in the stack of papers?
If you want to hide a tree, put it in a forest. Everyone knew that. But once they found that my research notebook was torn, they would look for the torn part.
Burn it in a fire?
Ugh, I shouldn’t have quit smoking in high school.
No. Think of it in a different perspective. It’s not the piece of paper that’s important. It’s what’s written on it. To erase the writing on there that was made in pen—
Everything became “2.”
I quickly grabbed the bottle of oolong tea. With a flick of my thumb, I unscrewed the cap and spilled the liquid all over the piece of paper.
I don’t remember. I think I would have written it with a permanent marker since it was so important. But if I did indeed write it with a water-based pen, then it might blur and become unreadable.
But, of course, it was written in oil-based ink.
I stared in a daze at the piece of paper wet with oolong tea. I had very little time left. There was no way for me to erase the information on this paper without moving from here—
Everything became “1.”
There was a place. One place where it was unlikely to be found.
I hurriedly rolled up the torn piece of paper and stuffed it into my mouth. I swallowed vigorously as if I were swallowing a medicine capsule. I could feel the damp paper sticking slightly to the back of my throat as it fell towards my stomach.
Now there was nothing to fear. I’m sure that this equation can be solved if our science and technology had developed to the point that we reached the technological singularity, but— Who are you?
Everything became “0.”

I tried to turn to the next page, but there were no more pages left. At the same time, the sensation of someone watching me as I’d read, disappeared.
No wonder the other half of the equation couldn’t be found. Not even Chikamori would have thought to look inside his own girlfriend’s stomach.
I stared at her as she slept on peacefully.
“Curiosity is the fundamental need that makes us human,” that was a good line she’d said.
My fundamental need, at the very least, had not yet been satisfied. There were still too many mysteries left to this equation.
Why had she been attacked by numbers? Was it a curse of some kind that befell those who solved the equation? Wasn’t the main purpose of the equation to allow access to another dimen6ion? And most of all…
Who did s9e see at the end?
It wasn’t clear whether the consciousness of the person who solved the equation jumped to another dimension, or if the new concept overheat1d the brain. But it was clear that th1s equation had mysteri8us power and w27? My head 664291,
—Someone was staring at me.
It wasn’t from just one direction.
I felt a pressing feeling of ey3s watching me from every corner of the room. And what f4lt even more overpowering was the feeling of someone standing behind me84.
I stood up quickly kic6ing the chair I’d been sitting on.
Making the first move is always best. If I lost the initiative, I would be a5 a disadvantage.
My waist twisted as I swung my right arm, activated my St0nd, and struck once as I tu9ned arou2d…
No one was there.
At the same time, I realized that the numbers that had been eating away at my mind had all disappeared, but I didn’t think of it as a sign of improvement.
That was because the English letters of the Owson sign that stood directly in front of the quiet residential area below me had changed to “04521.”
I hurriedly turned around and flipped through the pages of her cheeks. All of the letters had been replaced by lines and lines of numbers.
And then all of the numbers changed to “5.”
“—Dammit!”
Was it because I read her memories? Did I trigger the same phenomenon that she went through because I re-lived the equation’s unraveling through her memories?
Everything became “4.”
I could clearly feel someone breathing down my neck. But I knew that if I turned around, I wouldn’t see anyone, and I didn’t want to waste my precious time on that. A dull pulsing pounded in my ears. I broke out into a sweat as irritation that made me want to scream washed over me.
My vision wavered.
The scenery in front of me changed, and with each change, I could feel the colors slowly fading away.
The Morioh town where I lived, the Jimbo town where Shueisha was located, the Kunimi Pass memorial park where I’d gone to visit graves numerous times, the Ponte dei Sospiri that I’d sketched in Venice, a small bed in a dark private house, a lecture room at some university, the corridor of my grandparents’ ryokan, the starry sky.
There didn’t seem to be any correlation between the changes of scenery.
Everything became “3.”
One second.
Using just one precious second, let’s get this situation straight.
My goal is to figure out this equation.
If I did nothing and lost consciousness, I’ll end up like Chikamori’s girlfriend. In addition, I wouldn’t gain any more information on the equation.
So, how do I figure out the equation?
Would I be able to get around this if I beat someone? Who did I have to defeat to learn more about this equation? Where was the one I needed to beat? Was there even an enemy for this phenomenon in the first place?
Everything became “2.”
—They’re here.
In her moment of unconsciousness, she had seen someone.
I don’t know who she’d seen. But if they were to appear before me as well, if they were the one setting the curse of this equation into place, then there was still an opportunity.
I already knew what I was going to write in them. “Reveal yourself.” I only had one second to do it. But I could do it. I’d give it to them in a single shot.
The feeling of the floor supporting my feet suddenly disappeared. The wind ate at my ears, and I could feel my internal organs floating up and trying to leave through my mouth. As the sensation of falling became infinite…
Everything became “1.”
It was pitch dark.
I heard the sound of rushing water from somewhere. I could hear the sound of scraping chains, and the smell of dark green assaulted my nose. I opened my mouth so that I could vocalize at any moment, and sticky drool fell from my mouth. The sensation was like motion sickness, where everything in my stomach came hurtling back up.
I felt a warm breeze on my back. But even though my mind thought to turn around, my body would only move slowly as though I were in a time-lapse movie.
When I turned around to face endless darkness, I saw someone standing within it.
Whether it was man or woman, or even human, I couldn’t tell. I could see slight phosphorescence around them. They were about the same height as me, but it was too dark to see their clothes. The skin was slightly pale and their irises were pitch black. They had the features of one who could have originated from any country. Both arms hung slack, as if to show that they bore no hostility.
For some reason, my brain felt that there was a mathematical beauty in the way they looked.
“Heaven’s Door!”
My right arm tensed before I even said the words.
The words I’d released had definitely hit their arm, but the numbers “628743” written down rendered no effect through my Stand whatsoever.
Amidst my fading consciousness, I saw it.
The person standing before me raised their left arm with my meaningless order scribbled on it, and held up an index finger against their smiling mouth.
Everything became “0.”
That’s where I lost consciousness.

***

“…Agh!”
The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was dust mixed with hair underneath the bed.
I turned over on the spot and slowly got up on my hands and knees. I must have hit my jaw hard when I fell, because the inside of my mouth felt a bit tender.
I glanced at my watch on my left wrist.
“…It’s been two minutes after I collapsed.”
On the left side of my watch were written the words “If you know the solution to the equation, forget about it after ten minutes.” As I was reading the memories of Chikamori’s girlfriend, I calculated the amount of time needed to solve the equation and then wrote this in.
“That was a close call. If I hadn’t taken precautions, I would only be writing in numbers now.”
Heaven’s Door was at an overwhelming disadvantage if it lost initiative, but the opposite was also true. Many a time in the past had I experienced the information that I had gathered in advance making the difference between life and death.
I pulled up the chair that had gotten caught in my fall, and looked down at the sleeping girlfriend through my sweat-soaked, disheveled bangs.
The curse of this equation is activated upon knowing its solution.
The equation itself didn’t have a will of its own, though, so perhaps calling it a “curse” wasn’t appropriate.
There was nothing hostile about this sequence of events. It was just a physical phenomenon, like how an apple falls to the ground or how water boils once it reaches its boiling point.
“…Guess I’ll leave.”
I picked up my shoulder bag off the floor, and touched the sleeping woman’s cheek with my Stand.
I tore out the dozens of pages on what she knew about the equation and stored them into my bag, then turned my fingers to release my Stand.
I waited a few seconds.
I watched as her body slowly moved, her voice hummed out of her mouth, and her nostrils began to twitch, before I pressed the nurse call button at the side of her bed and left the room.
After I returned my visitor’s card, pressed the elevator button and waited, the elevator door opened and a young man stepped out. It was Chikamori.
He was dressed no differently from how I’d seen him earlier in the day, except that he was holding a bouquet of yellow gerbera daisies in his hand. Because Chikamori had lost his memories of the daytime, he did not recognize me.
As I gave way for him to pass by, Chikamori gave me a small bow and started walking off with a discouraged look on his face.
I got on the stationary elevator and spun around on my heels. As I pressed the button for the first floor, I also wrote “Forget the equation” on Chikamori’s neck, his back facing me.
Consider it a bit of a thank you for helping me to find those reference books without a peep of complaint.
Chikamori entered his girlfriend’s room without knocking.
Just before the elevator doors closed, I heard Chikamori give a shout from within and all of the nurses at the nurse station standing up in alarm as one.

***

The train back home was crowded with office workers on their way home.
Luckily, I was able to rest my back on the seat divider near the door, so I leaned back and slowly, loudly exhaled as though I was pushing out the exhaustion that dwelled within me like mud.
I liked it here. It was very relaxing.
The night sky, still faintly blue, was filled with white clouds, and I could see huge steel towers with numerous black lines standing evenly spaced on the other side of the mountain ridge. The light bulbs coming from streetlights and advertisements became lines of light, and the sparse lighting from residential areas gave me a strange sense of nostalgia. I suddenly wondered when was the last time I had eaten dinner with someone.
As I looked out the train window upon a dark cemetery, my mind pondered over the equation.
The feeling of being watched.
It was probably a kind of warning.
Only a predator would stare at a zebra in the savanna. It was a defensive response that the brain emitted when it senses the slightest discomfort, the possibility that you were being targeted as someone’s prey. It was the remnant of a time from when humans were prey.
“Next stop, Morioh. The exit will be on the right. Those standing by the doors, please be careful as we approach the station.”
Chikamori’s lover stated that the equation could be solved if “we reached the technological singularity.”
The technological singularity.
She was referring to the technological revolution where artificial intelligence (A.I.) surpassed human capabilities. It was true that A.I. with free will could be able to solve that equation safely.
In any case, that equation was something that humans were still forbidden to touch.
From now on, I will be the only one who knows the truth of that equation. That was probably a good thing. If the solution to that equation spread throughout the internet, the human race could easily die out.
My G-pen shaped earring shook. I felt the train braking.
I could still feel it clearly burned into my mind even now.
In that moment, I had felt as if I had stepped over a boundary.
The new law of physics that mankind would gain once the equation was solved was probably something that could only be controlled in the distant future, when science had advanced enough to handle it.
That was why someone, or something, was censoring that equation.
“Morioh, Morioh. Thank you for riding with us.”
With the train’s announcement behind me, I stepped off onto the Morioh Station platform. The summer night breeze felt good against my clammy skin.

 

END

——————————–

維羽裕介 --Yusuke Iba--
Born in Kanagawa prefecture. Novelist. Has three moles in a row on his ear.
Previous works include the "School Poker Wars" series. 
His favorite Stand is Kraft Work. 

 

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