Maze of Life

Souji’s parents had indeed freaked a little when they’d seen the scratch on his face and the broken wallet chain. The face had been easy, he’d gotten scratched by a cat he shouldn’t have touched, but a broken wallet chain involved a complicated story of a botched pickpocketing attempt. His mother berated him, but bought it.

He’d gone out looking every day since then. No luck. Not having a way to contact Margaret himself didn’t make things easier either. If he could just talk to her about what he’d learned maybe they could piece something together.

He stared at the messages on his phone. He hadn’t told any of his friends about this. He’d thought about, he was still thinking about it, but something held him back. Surely he could at least as Mitsuru if the Shadow Operatives had noticed anything.

Souji: Any word about what happened at my apartment?

A few minutes passed just staring blankly at the phone. It was mid-afternoon, so he didn’t doubt she was awake, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t busy.

Kirijo: One witness, but he’s too shaken up.

A witness? Could that be the man who had been up there? The man who had attacked Arisato?

Kirijo: He hasn’t said anything useful. The police have him now, but they don’t know what to charge him with. The only thing we found was that he appears to have a weapon designed to combat shadows.”

Ah, yeah, that thing. Souji had thought it might serve such a purpose.

Souji: Any affiliations?

Kirijo: None that we can find. We have Shirogane working with the police, so we should hear if she comes up with anything.

Right. Naoto had never officially joined the Shadow Operatives, but she did serve as one of their regular liaisons. She seemed to like it though, a chance to use her unique abilities while still following her dreams. He knew Chie and Akihiko had been thinking of pursuing a similar path.

Souji: Just let me know.

Kirijo: Of course, and if you think of anything please share the courtesy.

He winced a little. He didn’t know Mitsuru as well as his friends back in Inaba, but she probably knew he was hiding something. He had to say something to let her know he wasn’t trying to keep her in the dark. He just didn’t know what to say. That coupled with Margaret’s warning about getting Arisato’s friends involved had made him extremely hesitant. Still, he didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

Souji: Guess I’m a little shaken up too.

Kirijo: I know I’ve asked this before, but he wasn’t coming after you at all, was he?

Souji: Not as far as I know. I think he ended up here on accident. Maybe while chasing something else.

Kirijo: Very well, but be careful. There is every likelihood that either he or whatever he was chasing didn’t appear entirely on accident.

Souji: I will.

The same conclusion had occurred to him several times. The being who had been Arisato had found him too easily, and he sensed a strange connection or similarity between them. Aigis and the others had said similar things when they first met too.

A similarity? The joker card. He’d been carrying that burned up playing card since early elementary school, but he couldn’t remember why? Something about meeting someone? Who had given to him?

Arisato had stopped his attack when he’d seen it. Could it have been him?

Souji rolled over on his bed. Without access to the velvet room, and unsure of who to get involved, he had very few resources.

He touched the cut on his cheek. Shadows had never physically harmed any of them before, but this had definitely been a very dangerous katana.

Souji sighed. He had no leads and no obvious idea of how to get them. So, now what?

His phone rang. He looked at the caller ID. Blocked.

He answered the phone. “Hello. Who is it?”

An unfamiliar woman’s voice. “Is this Mr. Souji Seta?”

“This is he.”

“Excellent. I am speaking on behalf of Nebula Medical.”

A medical organization? What could they want with him?

“We are currently looking for individuals within your age range to participate in a psychological study. Fundamentally, it’s a combination of counseling and neuroscience. We hope to fully establish the link between feelings and patterns in the brain.”

Interesting enough.

“Would you be interested in participating?”

“What would it involve?” He was kind of busy right now, but this did sound interesting.

“Simply weekly sessions. The first one is just introductions and, for the most part, a rather normal counseling session. We try to get to know you and how you think. After the first session we finalize if you fit our testing group and call you to come back in. At that point we begin adding brain scans to the process. It would cost you nothing, and you may choose to remain anonymous, but you would have access to our findings. We will covers costs, however, such as transportation and, in the event of daylong sessions, appropriate meals will be paid as well. We do not believe that no good deed goes unpunished and will do our best to make sure that remains true. We also don’t want to lose perfect matches to cost.”

Perfect matches? “What sort of people are you looking for?”

“Young adults who show a drastic change of behavior somewhere within their life, or have one upcoming. High schoolers and college students are optimal for this.”

Right. Still, “Why did you call me?”

“You fit our criteria, don’t you? We have some advertisements out, but we’re also reaching out to a certain number of likely candidates. We want to make sure we have the best pool of individuals for examination and study.”

“When would you need me to come in?”

“For the first round it is best for you to simply come in as soon as possible. After that we’ll discuss a more consistent schedule. Would it be possible for you to come in tomorrow?”


“I know it’s sudden, but it really is best to conduct the first examination as soon as possible.”

“I suppose early evening would work.”

“That would be perfect. We understand that we can’t expect to operate under normal business hours and make it convenient for everyone. How about seven o’clock?”

“Sure.” He could do that. Grab dinner after class. “Where are you located?”

“If you could give me your e-mail I’ll send you the directions, along with more information and the paperwork you’ll need to print out and sign.”

“Sounds good.”

Souji: Have you heard of Nebula Medical?

Kirijo: No. Why?

Souji: They approached me about something. Thought you might know something.

Naoto: Interesting. They approached me as well.

Souji: Really?

Naoto: Yes. It did indeed sound intriguing but I am far too busy right now. Could you let me know when you find out more?

Souji: Sure. I’m pretty curious about the whole thing.

Kirijo: They approached both of you? Interesting.

Naoto: I guess it is, but we do fit under a similar profile.

Kirijo: I’ll ask around. Be careful.

Souji: Why?

Kirijo: Well, the man on the roof must have had help from somewhere and we have no idea where that could be, so I want you to be careful of any organization, especially if it isn’t well known.

Souji: Understood.

Naoto: Agreed.


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