Without knowing how, he found himself sitting in a rest stop along the highway. Japanese rest stops had figured out how to offer wide variety in little space, with dining options being vastly differentiated in what was otherwise a glorified roadside toilet. Ryuuji, now sitting at a table with no memory of how he got there, spun around a leftover dumpling from his meal with a chopstick. When he looked up, a man was sitting in front of him.
“Your name is Sogabe, right? It is, isn’t it?”
Ryuuji did not know what to say. The man had appeared out of thin air in front of him, no rhyme, no reason. It was nighttime, early morning hours, and the pit stop was mostly dim. The remaining employees seemed almost bothered anyone had made the effort to come inside at all and disturb their otherwise tranquil graveyard shift. This new man, at least, did not order anything.
“I’m sorry, are you surprised?”
Of course he was. The man’s posture was casual, one leg crossed over another, the pant leg of his perfectly tailored black suit running up his leg enough to expose his sock but no skin. It was nighttime, but dark sunglasses obscured his eyes. From what he could tell of his hands and face, the man was white—a foreigner. Bald, with a thick moustache covering his upper lip—groomed to a point that it looked meticulously effortless. A black suit & sunglasses-wearing white man in the middle of nowhere meant nothing good in his situation.
“No, because I don’t know who that man is. Sorry.” Ryuuji said this carefully.
“Well, I’m only asking as a formality. I know who you are, Mr. Sogabe.”
Ryuuji stayed silent.
“I don’t expect you would know who I am.”
“I have some ideas.”
“And I assure you I am relevant to none of them. In fact, I am the farthest thing from an idea. I am truth itself.”
“Mm,” said Ryuuji, and looked back down at his dumpling. “I don’t know what that is anymore.”
“Neither does anyone else on this earth. But I can assure you, I do.”
“You’re very confident.”
“No, only factual. I know all truths, you see. They are all contained in my head, like a computer. The file index tells me what I need to know, and then I relay it to who needs to know it.”
“I’m tired of computers. I want to rest for a while.”
“And you will.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Nothing. I just know you will.”
“Look, if you’re going to take me away or hurt me or something just do it now, because I’m not interested in talking.”
“But I know many things you would be interested in talking about. Are you not interested in truths?”
“I’m interested in truths, but I have a feeling the ones you hold aren’t the ones I’m looking for.”
“What about the truth of Klaus Vogler?”
He looked up from his dumpling.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why this name is in my file index. I have no intention of telling you. I have no intentions of doing anything to you, and in fact I shouldn’t even be here at all. I’m out of place, and perhaps you will not even believe the things I will tell you, but I will tell them to you nonetheless because you must hear them.” He shifted in his seat. “You know about Mama, don’t you? It should all be written in that other disk you keep next to your heart. You should be careful of their presence, you know.”
“Don’t talk. Your friend, Steinberg, is also part of the FBI. I know you had a feeling this was true, so I am telling you it is. I want you to cooperate with him, because he can be trusted. He knows more about that organization than you think. Do you understand?”
“I said don’t talk. I know you understand. Of course you understand.”
“Klaus? Right. I don’t want to tell you about that just yet, and in fact I only used it as bait. You’ll find out soon enough when you get there. Up there, where you’re going.”
“Aomori. What a place that is! The stench of death is thick there. Its superficial technologies can mask its appearance but it can’t mask the smell. How unfortunate that is where your long journey will lead, but it will not be its end.”
“Where will it end?”
“That I can’t tell you. That would be cheating.”
“Ah, you suits and your rules. Does the tag on your collar say ‘vague lines only?’ Enough of this.”
He got up to leave.
“Eat your dumpling.”
“You can have it.”
“You will eat it, or you'll have a hard time leaving this place.”
This man knew too much to not be considered dangerous. Ryuuji sat back down.
“What’s your goal here?”
“I’m here to warn you, or something like that.”
“Hell of a warning.”
“Listen: a few days from now, you’re going to learn the truth—the real truth. When you find out, it’s absolutely imperative you don’t freak out. If you freak out, then this’ll all be for naught. Steady mind, steady heart, like the ticking of a clock. Don’t stray from that beat, just follow the rhythm and make sure you see this thing through to its end. Human beings are unknowable things, of course, which is why I can’t predict how you’ll react one way or another. If I could, I wouldn’t be here. That’s why I have to tell you in person to just take it easy, because after that critical point things might become kind of easier, in a sense. Am I being clear?”
“You could be clearer.”
“This is clarity. You should learn to become transparent yourself.”
“I don’t think honesty is a virtue I’m allowed to have in my position.”
“I don’t mean honesty. I mean invisibility. Learn how to disappear. It’s too easy finding you--rather, I never lost you. Of course, that would be impossible.”
Ryuuji was back to toying with his dumpling. He could not discern who this man was sitting in front of him, where he came from, where he would return to, or what he would say next. He had been stressed before, yes, extremely stressed, but it was more like a computer working with an older processing chip. This was more like a total system failure—trying to load software on an OS it’s not made for.
“What do you want from me?”
“Nothing at all.”
“Then why say all this?”
“Because that’s what was going to happen at this exact moment of time.”
“Tired? I’m sure you would be. Anyone in your position would be.”
“What position am I in?”
“A tough one.”
“You got that right.”
“OK, I’m done. You’ve heard everything I was going to say.”
“Is that it?”
But when he looked up from his dumpling, the man was gone. Just as silently as he entered, he had vanished too. He got out of his seat and looked around, but there was no trace of him. The shops, too, were unmanned. A janitor appeared and began to wipe the floor.