Population Control – Chapter 11
This is a translation of a Japanese novel. You can read the Raw here.
This is a work of fiction, with depictions of violence such as death of many people at a time. It is not suitable for readers under 15.
Chapter 11 is here!
Between all the geopolitical/scientific/computing stuff that comes up in this novel, you know what’s the hardest part to translate? It’s food. It’s always food. No matter the novel, no matter the genre, food is my nemesis.
By the way, we’ve been getting a a bit more readers lately, I’m pretty happy about that. Hopefully it will continue.
Anyway, here is Chapter 11, I hope you’ll enjoy it!
“So, Kageyama, what’s that idea you said you came up with? Come on, just tell me.”
I went to buy some food for tonight’s dinner at a supermarket intended for foreigners, but Ichikawa came along and kept pestering me.
She’s been talking to me in a more familiar manner than usual, so I like to believe that maybe we’ve become closer.
But I’m busy right now. I need to prepare something proper so I can treat Lucas and Charlotte to some good food.
While filling my shopping cart with some imported ingredients that cost twice the price they cost in Japan, I pondered on tonight’s menu.
“Kageyama, are you listening to me?”
“I’m listening, Ichikawa. I’m listening. But could you maybe just chill for a bit? We’ll have a talk afterwards if you want.”
“Alright. Actually, I also have something I want to discuss with you.”
I can’t miss an opportunity to have a discussion with Ichikawa, that would be a sacrilegious waste. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t tell her any details about my plan, my circumstances, or my mission.
I have to reduce the human population by more than half. I probably have some margin, time-wise, but if I don’t show a demonstration, a plan, or at least some form of preparations to ‘that guy’, then far from simply finding a substitute for me, he might just give up on the whole simulation. These risks are making me feel anxious. But it’s between me and myself, no one else can know.
I suppose I could change plaster to gold in front of Ichikawa and ask for her cooperation, but I have to consider the risks. I have no guarantee she’d become my ally.
Once Ichikawa would come to fully understand the situation, she could interpret it as me intending to become humanity’s enemy, a worldwide mass murderer. That would be pretty troublesome.
“Oh? You’re going to make pounded yam?”
When she saw the contents of my cart, Ichikawa showed some interest. Looks like her attention moved to tonight’s dinner after I gave her my word that we’ll have a proper talk later.
Pounded yam is a traditional, Nigerian dish. It’s a sort of rice cake made by blending or pounding yams together with semolina and rice flour. I guess it’s a somewhat similar process to the making of Hokkaido’s potato mochi.
This traditional dish is supposed to be eaten by hand, and to be served together with a sauce or a soup at the table.
They say that if you want to serve something that no local will dislike, then you can go wrong with a serving of pounded yams along with ‘pepper soup’, which is a spicy soup that they make with goat meat and liver. In that sense, these are the local equivalents of rice and miso soup in Japan.
Since Nigeria has a mix of over 250 ethnic groups, there are a lot of variables to consider when it comes to their food. The overwhelming amount of wheat flour imported here from the US has brought a big shift to their old recipes, just like what took place in Japan in the past.
This made the locals’ taste in food change greatly in the last few decades. For instance, their diet has become centered around bread, and they now make things like couscous out of wheat instead of pearl millets. These mixes of traditional and modern have become their staple food. Or at least, that’s what I was told during my training at the company.
“Well, when in Rome… But I have no idea how this will turn out.”
I’ve already decided what I’m going to make tonight, and it’s not going to be pounded yams. But I’ll keep the answer to myself a little longer.
“Humph. So, are you planning to invite me at any point?”
I anticipated that this would come up since she always ends up coming to my place for dinner.
Hence why I’ve been buying more ingredients than I’d need for three people.
“Since you’re going to treat me to dinner tonight, would you like to come to my place to have some tea now? That way, we can have our talk right away.”
After I put down the bags that I carried with both arms from the supermarket to my room’s kitchen table, and once I was done filling the refrigerator with the stuff I needed to put there, Ichikawa called me on my phone.
Since we’ve left the hierarchy of our previous office, she’s speaking to me like I’m her senior rather than a mere colleague.
As I graduated a year earlier than her, that means she should be about a year younger me. Polite as she is, she realized that difference and changed her way of addressing me accordingly. I wouldn’t expect any less from her, she’s as minutious as ever.
“I need to get some stuff ready for tonight, so why don’t you come to my place instead? If all you want is to talk, then it shouldn’t matter where we do it, right? “
Right now, I have to prepare the meals I’ll be serving to Lucas and Colette. I can’t waste my time hanging around at Ichikawa’s place.
“Yes, but I’ve already boiled the water and all… It definitely won’t take long, trust me… “
Well, I can’t say I’m not interested in seeing what Ichikawa’s room looks like.
And so, convinced by Ichikawa’s insistence, and with absolutely not ulterior motive, I ultimately decided to go to her place. Since we live right next to each other in the condo, it only took me ten seconds to get there.
Soon after I rang at her doorbell, Ichikawa came out of the room, wearing something more casual than earlier.
“Welcome. I didn’t tidy up my luggage since we moved in so recently, but please come in.”
I took a look around Ichikawa’s dwelling.
Since we both took furnished rentals, her place is not really different from mine, save for some light and elegant curtains, as well as some nice-looking accessories that she put here and there.
She also has high piles of cardboard boxes with a certain shipping company’s logo on them, just like me.
“Take a sit over there.”
Like she recommended, I sat down at Ichikawa’s kitchen table.
Looking at her as she prepared some Japanese tea in the kitchen, I noticed her casual clothes made her look younger than usual. I’ve never seen her wearing a T-shirt and shorts before, so the sight did not leave me indifferent.
The sound of the tea boiling in the teapot was… Ah, how do I say this… ? It felt pretty nice.
And behind the curtain of rising steam that came from it, Ichikawa looked ethereal. The whole experience was so relaxing I just let go and enjoyed the changes it triggered in my mind.
“Here is your tea. But be very careful… It’s hot.”
As she said so, Ichikawa poured some of the tea inside a mug for me. These things were so mundane in our everyday life in Japan that we never learned to appreciate them. But now that we’re so far from our country, I’m really glad we have them.
The next moment, I became completely petrified.
My eyes were glued to the mug.
This mug had a cartoonish drawing of a frog on it. A cartoonish drawing that clearly matched the rabbit on the mug that I turned into gold.
When I looked back in confusion at Ichikawa’s face, I found that there was no trace of her polite smile left. She no longer looked like a woman entertaining her guest. Rather, she looked like an observer, trying not to miss any hint of a change in my attitude or face.
“Oh, yes. That cup is pretty cute, isn’t it, Kageyama? A friend studying arts made it for me. It came as a pair with another cup that I lost back at the office.
A cup with a drawing of a rabbit on it.”
The second the word ‘office’ came out of her mouth, her tone switched back to the way it was when she was my project manager. But that did nothing to turn her fixed gaze away from me.
She had the eyes of a hawk.
The atmosphere between us was becoming noticeably tense.
“A Choju-giga mug…”
Well, I do recall that the mug with the rabbit ended up at my apartment around the time we switched offices back at the previous company.
When we were about to move offices, we were supposed to pack our personal belongings and put them in cardboard boxes that we’d label with our designated desk and floor. The movers were then going to come over the weekend and move those boxes accordingly.
But the Friday before that weekend, I couldn’t go to work because I’d caught the flu, so someone else had to take care of my belongings in my stead. And that someone was Hattori. He must have accidentally put the mug in my box while packing my stuff. I was confused the following week when I found a mug that I didn’t remember ever seeing before.
I did ask Hattori and the people who sat close to him whether they knew who the cup belonged to, but I didn’t get an answer. I ended up just leaving it as is for a while, until someone at the company ordered me to “Keep my personal belongings at home”, at which point I took it with me and left it on my desk at my apartment.
As I finally recalled how exactly the mug came into my possession, Ichikawa kept going.
“And you, Kageyama, was the one who kept the rabbit cup, right?”
“What? How do you know that?”
“Back when we moved offices, I heard you were looking for the owner of that mug. But since I didn’t know how it ended up in your belongings and who put it there, I thought someone might have used it and put it back in the wrong place, which would have been quite gross, wouldn’t it? So, even though the cup was important to me, I gave up on it.”
I see, that does sound gross.
“So that’s what happened? I’m sorry. I’d return it to you, but I don’t have it anymore. I broke it…”
I lied about breaking it, but it’s true that I don’t have it anymore.
“Oh really… Who’s to say you’re not lying because you want to keep it for yourself?”
“Look, I’m telling the truth. I’ll pay you back for it if you want…”
“You’ll pay me back? How much? 1.7 million yen?”
I yelped out extrmely loud.
The way I see it, Ichikawa was basically saying “I know you sold that mug for 1.68 million yen”.
“Ahaha, I was just fishing for a reaction but you actually fell for it, Kageyama.”
“What do you mean?”
“Kageyama, you know, I often go to Okachimachi. One day, I saw a golden mug through a shop’s display window. Everything about it was the exact same as the rabbit mug that I lost, be it the size, or the design. But there was one key difference.
It was made of gold.”
“What a crazy coincidence.”
“So I talked to the store clerk, asked him who brought the cup.
But, well, he didn’t take me seriously. As is usually the case in these situations.
He was all like ‘I’m sorry miss but I can’t share information about another customer’s sale’ or whatever.
So I brought the frog mug to him hoping he’d hear me out, but it was useless. He didn’t want to tell me anything about the seller.”
I didn’t say anything back. I couldn’t say anything back.
“Then, afterwards, that whole expensive meat thing came up, remember about that? I figured the cup had something to do with it.
So the mug that was supposed to be in your possession had ended up at a specialized store in Okachimachi and was allegedly made of gold now, and right then you happened to make a big amount of money from horse-racing or something, which was an odd explanation knowing you.”
“This was all unbelievable, but I was convinced that that mug didn’t just happen to have the same exact shape and design. I mean, my friend’s personal stamp was at the bottom of the golden cup. Just in case, I tried to ask her about it. Do you remember making a similar mug but with gold? And of course, she said she never did.”
“You ‘see’? Don’t you have something else to say? How about you explain to me what’s going on instead?”
“Stop saying I see!”
I felt like a programmer who found a massive bug, was late on schedule, and was being questioned by the project manager. I could only give vague replies.
“Well… actually… Back then, I’d heard somewhere that the gold medals they’ll be giving at the Olympics will be made from gold that’s been extracted from electronic components, so I figured I’d try to to do the same. I used aqua regia to oxidize and dissolve the gold, then I reduced the solution through sulfites, and I put it all into a plaster mold that I made from the mug. Afterwards, I carefully made a duplicate of the mug in gold. I also happened to break the original mug in the process.”
“It’s true. I even brought some plaster here with me. I’ll show it you later, when you come for dinner.”
I think I came up with a pretty good lie. I didn’t think the plaster would come to use in this way.
“Look, let’s pretend you really did do that. You’d have had to use 400 grams of gold. No matter how many cellphone parts or old CPUs you had, extracting 400 grams from them by yourself would be basically impossible. Besides, plaster can’t withstand exposure to aqua regia. The mold would break before the electroreduction could happen.”
Looks like Ichikawa is more knowledgeable about chemistry than I am. That was very stupid of me.
“Then what are you suggesting, Ichikawa? Do you think I’m some sort of wizard who can turn a ceramic object into a metal without changing its shape? Does that sound more plausible to you than the rest?”
“No, and that’s why I’m asking you to explain it to me, Kageyama.”
Now that I think about it, the rule that I shouldn’t tell other people about my mission and power is only here to protect me, ‘that guy’ didn’t forbid me from telling others or anything of the sort. It was my own decision. But don’t heroes have side-kicks who know their true identity and help them with their hero tasks?
Well, Ichikawa doesn’t have to be a side-kick, maybe she could be something else. Then again, maybe I should keep the part about having to reduce the population from her.
Either way, I’ve made my decision. I’ll take that bet.
“Ichikawa, my face is going to look a bit odd in a few seconds, but please be patient and don’t move from there.”
“W-what are you suddenly-“
“After that, I want you to promise me that you’ll keep everything that will happen from this point on a secret. If you don’t promise that, I cannot guarantee your safety.”
“Is that a threat…?”
“It’s not. If it ever gets found out that you know about this secret, your life will definitely be targeted.
Even when people thought I only had a horse-racing prediction system, a swarm of annoyances gathered around me, and there were some who even aimed for my room and tried to steal my password… But this is about making gold.
Can you imagine the reactions?”
“Wait! Hold on! If it’s something that dangerous, maybe I don’t need to know!”
“Sure. Then we’ll say you simply saw a golden cup in Okachimachi that coincidentally happened to look like the cup I had. Is that version of the events alright with you?”
“Like hell it’s alright! But I don’t have a choice, do I?”
“But how about this. If I tell you my secret, then you’ll get to become my collaborator.”
“Hmmmm~Well, the whole reason I came to Nigeria in the first place was to find out about this secret so, maybe, but~”
In the end, Ichikawa asked me to give her a night to think about it, and I happily agreed.
…Well then, I guess I should get back to preparing tonight’s dinner.
Translator’s note: I’ll go ahead and say you didn’t expect that. But there were small hints and some foreshadowing through the chapters actually, if you read carefully.
By the way, big thanks to Victor, Population Control’s first patron!
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