Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

In a City with Missing Time

The blazing heat that emanated from the relentless ball of fire in the sky struck the entire city equally without care. However, it seemed that the sidewalks that Noritaka was walking on were especially hot enough to create a mirage of a frying pan, hot enough to cook an egg on. Under these extreme conditions, Noritaka was profusely sweating underneath his suit, even with his jacket slung over his shoulder, which didn’t make the situation any better. As he was passing by the usual shops on his way to lunch, he couldn’t help but overhear the gossip from a small group of local old ladies.

“Hey, I hear the governor is going to get re-elected.”

“Yeah? I’m not surprised. After all the things he did for this city.”

“Ever since he got elected last term, the city has changed so much, so quickly, and for the better too.”

While shaking his head, Noritaka muttered under his breath, “Made my job a whole lot busier as well.”

Ignoring the rest of the old ladies’ conversation, Noritaka continued to walk down the street until he arrived in front of the subway station entrance. One might think he would take the subway if he reached the station, but he had other intentions in mind. Going to the usual spot underneath the eave of the entrance next to the escalators, Noritaka stopped in front of the homeless man whose sign read “Homeless, Please help.”

Noritaka squatted in front of the homeless man who appeared to be sleeping and said, “Yo, get up. It’s time for lunch.”

The homeless man jerked awake at the familiar voice of Noritaka, who looked at him with apathetic, yet non-condescending eyes.

“Kokko at your service,” beamed the homeless man, flashing a pair of slightly stained rows of teeth directly at Noritaka.

They arrived at a nearby cafe that was slightly more packed than usual, thanks to the daily lunch special they offered. While chowing down on the signature club sandwich that Noritaka had ordered for him, Kokko listened to the daily complaints of Noritaka. It would usually be something along the lines of either work, politics, or something trivial like stepping on poop. Listening to a man rant in exchange for lunch is not exactly a terrible deal, thought Kokko, given his current circumstances. While casually listening to Noritaka’s tirade about work, Kokko took a quick glance around the cafe. As usual, there were curious stares and some murmurs regarding the odd pairing at the table. A man in a suit having lunch with an unkempt homeless person like him was not exactly an everyday sight per se. Unlike Noritaka, who paid no heed to the people around him, Kokko was somewhat conscientious, but not enough so that it bothered him. After all, he’s seen worse on the streets.

“And that’s exactly why work sucks. What kind of workplace doesn’t accommodate their employees? Why can’t we change into a suit when we get into the hospital? Do they want us to be admitted into the hospital for a heat stroke?” Noritaka expressed his fuming rage with wild arm motions.

Without wholeheartedly listening to the entirety of his complaints, it was clear from Noritaka’s stained armpits that today’s rant was about the weather and his work.

Finishing the second sandwich on his plate, Kokko gave a neutral reply. “Well, hospitals are a professional setting, so it would make sense that the concierge would need to dress in a suit, but I don’t see a problem with changing at work either. This heat is killer, after all.”

“Exactly! I’ve already filed a couple of complaints at work, but they’re just ignoring it. Just wait until one of us drops dead in front of the hospital, and maybe they’ll change the policy.”

Kokko let out a chuckle. “Haha, hopefully they will change it before that happens.”

As Noritaka sipped on his glass of iced water to quench his parched throat from all the complaining, his gaze was diverted to the front door of the cafe from the door chime. Saki, who was also working at the hospital as concierge with Noritaka, walked through the front door alone. Her dark brown hair tied into a ponytail matched the bangs that neatly covered her forehead. She was of fair complexion, not having anything particularly outstanding nor alarming about her. She was dressed in a black blazer with a white blouse underneath, along with a black pencil skirt. It was a typical professional ladies’ outfit, but maybe due to the sweltering heat that day, the outfit reminded Noritaka of a penguin walking in the Saharan Desert. The only thing that reminded him that she was not a penguin was the pair of slim purple earrings that glistened from her ears. From a superficial viewpoint, she was definitely on the prettier side, but the way she got along with everyone didn’t settle well with Noritaka. Most of the time she was ditzy with her fellow coworkers, but there were occasional times where he thought he saw her enveloped by darkness. Noritaka had difficulty explaining this hallucination to himself, so he definitely couldn’t tell or explain it to anyone else. The fact that he couldn’t pinpoint Saki’s personality made it difficult for Noritaka to converse with her, since he felt like he wasn’t actually talking to her.

Perhaps due to the unique couple at the table, Saki’s eyes wandered in the direction of Noritaka, who inadvertently stared back at Saki. When their eyes met, there was an awkward silence between the two.

What seemed like minutes was interrupted when Kokko followed his gaze. “You know her?”

Breaking off the staring contest with Saki waving first, Noritaka looked back at Kokko. “Yeah, a coworker. Haven’t talked to her much, though.”

Glancing back at Saki who now shifted her attention to the cashier, Kokko jested, “Yeah? Pretty cute. You should talk to her. Although I’d say she’s out of your league.”

Noritaka shrugged his shoulders and gave a lame reply. “Eh.”

When it came to other people, specifically when it came to relationships, Noritaka tended to become passive, despite his monologue from minutes before.

Choosing his words carefully, Kokko meekly inquired, “Still hung up on that incident, huh? It’s been some time.”


“I think you ought to move on.”

“Shut up. You know I don’t get along well with people in general. Saki, in particular, is even harder to get along with.”

“Yeah? You sure you’re not putting up a wall against her? You don’t get many chances in life.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” glared Noritaka.

“Take it how you want,” shrugged Kokko.

Pondering the meaning of Kokko’s wise words, Noritaka managed to catch a glimpse of Saki on her way out the door, her violet earrings blinding Noritaka from the sun’s reflection.

As Noritaka winced, Kokko changed the subject to the one he was always concerned about. “Hey Noritaka, can you check my health for me?”

“How many times have I said that just because I work at a hospital doesn’t mean I’m a doctor?”

“I know, I know. But I’m sure you’ve picked up a few things here and there. And besides, who else would I ask?” Kokko began to slump his shoulders in an exaggerated manner with a frown that followed suit.

“Yeah, yeah. Stop making me pity you. Show me your Counter already,” replied Noritaka in an annoyed manner.

Kokko’s posture and smile instantly returned as he plopped his bronzed arm on the table, revealing a hi-tech watch known as a Counter. As he tapped the screen of his Counter, he gave the command, “Make visible in a 1 meter radius.” When he said that, a hologram of the Counter’s interface appeared that was perfectly visible to those in the radius, but otherwise nonexistent to those further away. As he scrolled through the simple yet elegant interface, he clicked on the module that said “Health”, revealing a plethora of health information. From blood pressure to electrolyte levels to medications, the “Health” folder literally contained all medical information on Kokko. Browsing through Kokko’s health information with his limited knowledge, Noritaka mumbled what he thought was important to himself.

“Blood pressure… ok… heart rate… ok… cholesterol levels… acceptable… glucose levels… ok…”

As Noritaka continued to sift through his medical information, Kokko couldn’t help but wonder how far science had advanced. Back in his time, a watch could only tell time; now, it could basically do everything. Through the advancement of science and technology, the Counter is able to directly read and measure all medical-related information regarding the wearer’s body in real time. Perhaps the most important, and controversial, piece of information was the amount of heartbeats the wearer has. Before a certain scientific paper was proven true, heartbeats was just another number that only healthcare professionals cared about. This paper, which essentially changed the world, proved that the life of a heart is dictated by the amount of times it can beat. And in that paper, a complex equation was derived which could precisely calculate the number of times a heart will beat before it stops. On top of that, a medical company integrated that equation into an advanced smartwatch that scans the wearer’s body for all the necessary information and spits out a number that counts down to zero. Simply put, people know when they will die just by looking at their Counter. When this first came out, of course there were severe criticisms and backlash. But now, due to recent events, there has been general acceptance by the population.

Kokko’s eyes couldn’t help but wander to Noritaka’s Counter, which was distinctly different from his own. Noritaka had mentioned before that he participated in a beta program, in which very few people actually participated, but he wasn’t really specific in his description of it. Although his beta Counter has long been outdated, void of any applications besides the Health function, Noritaka continued to wear it for some reason.

As Kokko was staring at Noritaka’s wrist, Noritaka snapped him back to reality. “Nothing odd here as far as I can tell.”

“Good to hear that I’m doing well.”

“Well, if there’s anything wrong, the Counter will automatically alert you and your doctor, so I don’t know why you want me checking so frequently.”

“Eh, I can’t interpret all these fancy words and numbers in my health profile. The only thing I understand is the only thing I don’t want to know.”

“Still refusing to check your heartbeats, I see.”

Kokko replied while holding a fist to his heart, “This buddy here will tell me when my time is up, not some piece of electronics tied to my wrist.”

“I guess that’s one way… Oh shoot! My lunch time is nearly up! I’ll see you tomorrow!”

Without waiting for a response from Kokko, Noritaka grabbed his jacket and quickly made his way to the cashier, paying with his smartphone rather than his outdated watch. Noritaka cursed the heavens as he opened the Gates of Hell, while Kokko remained in the cafe, finishing his last club sandwich in nirvana.

On his way back to work, Noritaka passed by a desolate park. He would have continued on if a certain glint of purple didn’t catch his eye. He noticed Saki eating takeout alone under the fiery sun. If the thought of him kicking Saki out of the cafe due to the awkward situation wasn’t in his mind, he would have certainly ignored her and continued on to the hospital. But seeing that as the most likely explanation, he decided to confront her with an apology in mind. Before he managed to get close to her, however, he saw it again - an aura that completely mismatched her usual cheerful personality. As if responding to Noritaka’s sudden halt, Saki whipped her head in the direction of Noritaka, who just so happened to catch Saki stuffing her face with a club sandwich. Caught in another awkward situation, their staring contest began again, with Saki’s face quickly turning a beet red. Staring into the chipmunk eyes of Saki, Noritaka dispelled the aura that he imagined earlier on and broke the silence first.

“Uh… enjoying your meal?”

Still staring at Noritaka with wide eyes, Saki nodded slowly with her food still in her cheeks, making her look even more like a chipmunk.

“Uh… about earlier… if I somehow accidentally kicked you out of the cafe, and forced you to eat alone in this scorching heat, I apologize,” Noritaka said while bowing his head slightly.

Saki stood up and instantly swallowed the remaining food in her mouth. Waving her hands in a dismissive manner, she quickly replied in a cheery attitude, “No, no, not at all. It was my plan to eat out here to begin with.”

Her refusal to admit that Noritaka was to blame ticked Noritaka off a little bit, but he decided to leave it as is.

“Okay, I’ll believe you. By the way, do you think you can keep what you saw today a secret from the others?” Noritaka didn’t want the peanut gallery at work to harass him.

“What did I see exactly?” Saki asked while giving a mischievous grin.

Just talking to Saki alone gave Noritaka a headache. “You know… who I was eating with…”

“Oh, and who might that be?”



“... A friend… of a friend…”

Saki gave some thought to this, and proceeded to nod slowly, “I can keep this a secret from the others… on one condition,” raising a finger. “Let me join in the next time you guys have lunch together.”

Noritaka’s eyebrows jumped. He wasn’t expecting this condition. He figured it would be something like covering her next shift, or something along those lines. He was confused.


“Why what?”

“Why that condition?”

“Hmm… Well since you mentally kicked me out at lunch today, joining you for lunch should make it even, right?”

So she did leave because of me earlier, thought Noritaka. A very valid proposition for what happened. Still, given their not-so-close relationship, Noritaka wasn’t particularly comfortable with her meeting Kokko. A random thought popped into his head.

You sure you’re not putting up a wall against her? You don’t get many chances in life.

He couldn’t tell if Kokko was being serious or pulling his leg. After some more thought, he resigned from Saki’s pinning glare and Kokko’s sagelike (or meaningless) words.

Noritaka heaved a sigh, “Fine. We can all go get lunch tomorrow. Not a word to the others.”

“Yay! Oh right, I forgot to mention this, but you’re also treating me tomorrow,” smiled Saki.

Before Noritaka could refute, Saki added, “You should get back to work. Your lunch shift ended 5 minutes ago by the way.”

Looking at his Counter, Noritaka cursed out loud and sprinted away from Saki, who was waving Noritaka a “see you later”.

On his sprint back to the hospital, Noritaka was thinking if bringing Saki to lunch tomorrow was a good idea. It was unlikely that she was going to tell his coworkers about Kokko in the first place, so why did he agree? As Noritaka pondered this question, his boss pondered on his whereabouts.