Chapter 2:

Chapter 2

In a City with Missing Time

As soon as the alarm from his smartphone blared sharply at six in the morning, Noritaka got up from bed and turned on the morning news on his television. While completing his typical morning routine consisting of washing up, eating breakfast, and changing, Noritaka liked to tune in to the news to stay up to date with society.

“And at nine in the morning, we will have another mayoral debate between current mayor Matsuwa Kaji, aiming for a second term, and Den Fumihiro, currently in second place, with a planned discussion on the hot topic of the Counter. Ever since the terrible incident that caused the mandate requiring everyone to wear the Counter, general consensus has shifted rather quickly from rejection to approval of the Counter. And here we have, Den, a critic of the Counter coming in second in this mayoral race. Toga, what do you think his odds are at winning this election? Well Yamashita-”

Noritaka turned off the television, as his smartphone alerted him that a bus was soon approaching. Luckily for him, the stop was just around the corner, so he managed to get there just as the bus arrived. As he boarded the bus, he noticed the CityBusApp displayed near the driver. The app from the driver’s point of view was a map that displayed the bus and all of the locations of the passengers who had pre-bought tickets. It tracked the passengers’ locations through GPS signals from their Counters. However, since Noritaka’s Counter did not have such functions, he didn’t appear on the app. Essentially, while the passengers can track where the bus is on their Counter, the driver can track where the passengers are as well. Whether or not the driver waited for the passenger running behind the bus, however, was a completely different story.

As Noritaka felt bad for that poor soul, he set his gaze on the passing stores that have equally advanced technology. The soft serve store that serves delicious black sesame ice cream was practically completely automated as well, with just the customers needing to hold their Counters to the scanner as the soft serve is dispensed. Even the old couple running the local grocery store used their Counters to keep inventory and process transactions. The street ads also displayed targeted ads that changed whenever people got close to them, scanning their browsing history on their Counters. Noritaka confirmed that the entire city had pretty much accepted the Counter when he brought his gaze back to the bus, where he saw everyone using it to pass time on this ride. Noritaka was perhaps one of the very few souls that still used a smartphone. Remembering the news from this morning, Noritaka felt that Den had no chance of winning the election if he continued to oppose this integral piece of technology. As Noritaka thought about the one-sided election, the bus arrived at his destination, and he walked the rest of the way to the hospital.

The Shinzou Hospital Group. Perhaps most famous for being the number one cardiac center in all of Japan, the Shinzou Hospital Group was a collection of hospitals located throughout all of Japan that handled over 90% of all cardiac cases. The doctors in those hospitals were world-class physicians, often appearing on the front page of the web for having performed extremely difficult surgeries. They say that being under the knife of any one of these prodigies is safer than a chef cutting a tomato.

Walking through the glamorous front doors of the hospital, Noritaka spotted one of those genius surgeons, Sato. Sato was one of the few genius surgeons he was somewhat acquainted with because he had previously operated on Noritaka’s mother. His calm composure that matched the plain glasses he wore was needed in the operating room. His black hair showed no traces of white hair, indicating both his youth and stress-free operations as a skillful surgeon. Since Noritaka worked in the front and Sato worked on the upper floors, they rarely ran into each other at the hospital.

“Sato!” called out Noritaka.

Perhaps from the wreckage he was in when Noritaka’s mother was admitted and the fact that they work in the same hospital (although it was unlikely for Sato to know the concierge), Sato recognized Noritaka and replied, “Hi Noritaka,” before quickly walking away. Even as he walked, he kept his posture and composure maintained.

Must be busy, thought Noritaka. As he walked behind the front desk, ready to work, his group of colleagues, who were watching him during that exchange, ran up to him and bombarded him with questions.

“You know Dr. Furukawa!?”

“Did you just call him by his first name!?”

“How does he know your name!?”

The three cute young ladies that brimmed with curiosity got uncomfortably close to Noritaka.

If these three are here, then it means he is here as well, groaned Noritaka in his mind.

As if on cue, an obnoxious voice sneered, “Well, well, how does a world-class surgeon know a world-class loser like you?”

The obnoxious voice came from an obnoxious face with an obnoxious name. Dondon, also known as Big Don, walked out of his booth only to rear his rectangle face that matched his rectangle nose that matched the rectangle muscles that bulged out of his suit. He was known as Big Don for a reason.

“Heh, you jealous?”

“Me? No. A big man like me has no room for something as small as jealousy,” retorted Big Don.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Noritaka flatly replied.

“Maybe one day when you have a big brain like me, you’ll understand the big words I’m saying,” gloated the big man in a small suit.

“Don’t make fun of him, Big Don.”

“Yeah, that’s not nice, Big Don.”

“Yeah, not everyone is as smart as you, Big Don.”

The peanut gallery chimed in, which only ticked Noritaka off even more. Before he could say anything back, however, their supervisor yelled out to them to get back to work and serve the patients. Marking the end of the meaningless conversation, Big Don turned around in an exaggerated fashion and went back to his booth, along with the three ladies. Noritaka was left in his booth counting his remaining brain cells after that exchange.

Soon after, Saki, in her usual attire, walked through the front doors, barely making it on time for work. She gave a sly smile at Noritaka as they made eye contact, which sent shivers up his spine. She proceeded to say her morning greetings to Big Don and the crew, who reciprocated the greeting back. Even though she hasn’t been working there long, Noritaka found it impressive that she could tolerate Big Don.

Work proceeded as usual with Noritaka registering patients’ family members as visitors and showing them to their loved ones’ rooms. He would scan their Counters so that they would have access to the floors they needed and uploaded a holographic map of the hospital to their Counters, marking the patient’s specific room. He would also answer any non-medical related questions that they would ask. During the off-peak visiting hours, Noritaka’s attention wandered towards one of the televisions that was showing the live mayoral debate.

“Den, as you can see, most of the city has integrated the Counter into their daily work lives. Without even speaking about the healthcare sector, the Counter has greatly improved productivity in all other sectors as well. The industrial sector has seen an over 15% improvement. Information technology, utilities, communications, all sectors of work have seen vast improvements in productivity since the mandate of the Counter. Would you please comment on your stance regarding this city’s improvement and the Counter?”

“Yes, these numbers do not lie. There has certainly been improvements in all sectors since the mandate of the Counter. But, is that not normal? With our technology constantly improving day by day, there is no doubt other areas of work would improve as well. Even without the Counter, I’m sure all sectors would improve regardless. With the mandate of the Counter, employers have laid off thousands of our people for the sake of increased productivity and less costs. Without a source of income, what point is there in creating more products and services if our people cannot afford them? There has been a substantial increase in homelessness due to the efficiency of the Counters. Have we not heard the saying ‘Too much of a good thing is a bad thing?’ We are heading towards the point where technology will surpass humans, and this Counter, that we are all forced to wear, only pushes us closer to the point of no return.”

“Intense debate, huh?” Saki spoke over Noritaka’s shoulder, who then instinctively turned around, his eyes wide and alarmed.

“Yeah, it is. Though I don’t think Den has much of a chance at winning.”

“Mm, maybe, but he’s not wrong about the Counters. A lot of people have lost their jobs from them.”


“Say, did that guy you were with yesterday lose his job because of the Counter as well?”

Noritaka didn’t really want to answer that question, but he also didn’t want her to ask Kokko directly.

“Yeah, though he lost it long before the mandate happened.”

“I see…”

With the lack of visitors in the hospital today, they continued to watch the debate in silence.

“Having the mandated Counter on everyone’s wrists allows for a far more safe and convenient lifestyle for our people. As you know, the health function allows real-time monitoring of the wearer’s health. Not only does it notify them of their health status, but it is also crucial in emergencies. In any sort of acute emergency, the Counter will automatically contact the right authority so that help is expedited. For example, for the many people who live alone, if one were to suffer a heart attack, who would know before it’s too late? With the Counter, the device would automatically detect the heart attack and immediately notify paramedics. Even in other dire situations like armed robbery, for example, a simple touch or a simple whisper of "call the police" would suffice. It has deterred crimes drastically, with the most recent statistics showing a crime rate of less than 1%. Safety is of paramount importance, especially after that deadly incident, and the Counter does the perfect job in creating safety in this community."

“Well said, Mayor Matsuwa. Den, do you have any comments?”

“From a medical standpoint, the Counter certainly has its benefits. Hospitals only need to check the patient’s Counter to understand their patient. But what about data breaches? Can we say with 100% certainty that everyone’s information is completely confidential?”

“There have been no reports of any breaches so far, and security is constantly updated with the Counter. I believe there is minimal to no risk associated with this device,” interjected Matsuwa.

Before Noritaka could listen to Den’s counterargument, a surge of visitors flooded in. Noritaka secretly let out a sigh as he got back to work.

The morning soon ended with Noritaka feeling completely drained. Just as he thought he could get a break, Noritaka was reminded of yesterday’s deal when he saw Saki approaching him.

“What’s for lunch today, Noritaka?” grinned Saki.

“Well, if I’m treating you, it’ll have to be ramen.”

“Wow, what a cheapskate,” Saki jested.

“Whatever, let’s get going.”

And so, they left the glamorous hospital in search of cheap ramen. While on their way to pick up Kokko, Saki asked Noritaka a lot of bothersome questions since it was their first time having lunch together.

“Do you always go to lunch with that man?”

“Pretty much.”

“When’d you meet him?”


“How’d you meet him?”

“Who knows.”

“What’s your favorite color?”


“Why are you so grumpy?”

“I wonder.”

Luckily for Noritaka, the endless barrage of questions stopped when they reached Kokko, who was sleeping in the middle of the day by the subway station as usual. Noritaka woke him up in the usual way.

“Yo, get up. Lunch time,” groaned Noritaka.

Kokko opened his eyes, expecting to see the usual grumpy Noritaka in his suit. To his surprise, it was the lovely Saki, crouching in front of him, who entered his view. If Kokko was to narrate his experience, it would go something like this:

“I opened my heavy eyes, tired from the abuse that the world has put me through. Hungry and alone in this dark world, I was expecting nothing but pity from a heartless stranger. But then, I saw you. A goddess with perfectly round chocolatey eyes, staring directly into my soul. A nose that matched the womanly lips on a perfectly shaped face. Dark brown walnut hair tied into a neat ponytail. A pair of purple earrings to complement the fragrant smell of lavender. Ah, a goddess indeed!”

“Hi, Kokko. Nice to meet you. I’m Saki, a colleague of Noritaka,” smiled the enchantress.

Kokko simply stared straight at Saki with his mouth hanging open.

Interrupting his fantasy, Noritaka commented, “Quit staring, old man. It’s time for lunch. I don’t want to get yelled at by my boss for being late again.”

Kokko sprang up from his position and swung his right arm around Noritaka’s neck with his left covering his mouth.He whispered just loud enough so that Saki could hear as well. “You rascal. It was only yesterday that I told you to break down that wall. Can’t believe you progressed in one day.”

Whispering just as loudly, Noritaka replied, “It’s not what you think it is. Something led to something, and now this happened. Besides, don’t let her looks fool you. She’s scary.”

Saki interjected, holding a fist close to her obviously pissed off, forced smiling face, “Let’s get going, shall we? I’m getting hungry.”

Sweating bullets, Noritaka immediately answered, “Yes, yes. Let’s get going. We can talk as we eat.”

They arrived at a nearby ramen place, moderately packed with other customers having lunch. In front of them were three delicious-looking ramen of which only one was being eaten, by Noritaka. The trio received some nosy stares by the other customers due to the odd group they formed, but that didn’t bother them at all. They were engaged in a heated argument.

Saki slammed both hands on the table, “I’m telling you! Checking your heartbeats is a good indicator of your health! If you compare it to the national average, you’ll have a good idea of where you stand!”

Kokko followed suit, “But I don’t want to know where I stand! I know how I’m doing based on how I feel right now! Some stupid madeup number doesn’t decide how I’m doing!”

“Yes it does! Your condition, your life expectancy, it’s all in that number! What if you were born with a shorter lifespan than most people? Wouldn’t you want to do more in that shorter time frame you have?”

“No! Why would I want to do more when I have less heartbeats? I’d rather do less, and extend that short life as long as I can!”

Their opinions on this matter were as different as night and day. Although Noritaka already understood Kokko’s opinion on this topic since they have known each other for a long time, he was interested in hearing Saki’s stance. Observing this quarrel as a bystander, Noritaka felt that Kokko and Saki have gotten along oddly quickly, though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Meanwhile, in the short amount of time that Noritaka had interacted with Saki, he felt like part of Saki’s true nature had been revealed. He could now accurately describe her as a woman who seems proper and sweet at first glance. However, once he got to know her, he could see that Saki was more playful and liked to annoy other people. Noritaka felt like she would get along well with Kokko. For some reason though, when it came to certain things, she would get more fired up than most other people.

“Noritaka! Speak up! Who’s right here?” demanded Saki.

Staring daggers, Kokko and Saki turned their heads simultaneously towards Noritaka, who didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire.

“Well… uh… you both present valid points, and uh…”

“Stop beating around the bush and spit it out,” ordered Kokko, who was clearly impatient.

“Well… if I knew I had a shorter lifespan, I would probably want to preserve my life as long as I can, but-”

“Hah, in your face, Saki!” rubbed Kokko.

“Don’t interrupt him, Kokko! Keep going, Noritaka,” urged Saki in a surprisingly kind manner, as if trying to cajole him to take her side.

“As I was saying, I would want to preserve my life as long as I can, but that means I would like to be able to consistently look at my remaining heartbeats to check that.”

“See? You should totally check your heartbeats, Kokko. Wise, old Noritaka here agrees with me,” smiled Saki in a haughty way, while patting Noritaka’s back with force.

“I’m not old…” mumbled Noritaka.

“I actually have Noritaka here checking my health status for me every now and then. Though when he looks at my heartbeat, I make sure he doesn’t tell me anything about it.”

“Really? Noritaka? I didn’t know you had medical knowledge. I thought only Big Don and I have some medical background out of all of us,” wondered Saki.

“I just picked up some stuff here and there at the hospital. No formal education or anything like that. If you have the background, maybe you could take a look at Kokko’s Counter, if he lets you,” suggested Noritaka.

“Can I?” grinned Saki.

As if completely forgetting their argument just now, Kokko happily agreed and pulled up the hologram of his health information for Saki to see. Unlike Noritaka’s untrained eyes, which took some time to process the information, Saki was able to quickly go through Kokko’s profile and determine that there was pretty much nothing wrong with him.

“All good,” smiled Saki. She hesitantly turned the conversation to a darker subject.

“By the way... I noticed that you were admitted into a hospital around the time of the big incident a few years ago. Do you mind if I ask you which of the incidents you were involved in, if that’s related?”

“Oh yeah, I was involved in the one at Main Station. I was living near the eave of the station, like I do now, when the explosions happened, so I wasn’t really in the main area. They just took me in since I might have inhaled some smoke. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just wondering. So you weren’t in the subways at all when it happened?”

“Nope, just chilling outside like usual.”

“Mm, okay,” resigned Saki.

Saki’s strange line of questioning had Noritaka thinking, but then the conversation shifted to him.

“You know, Noritaka was caught up in one of the explosions,” mentioned Kokko.

Noritaka began to feel uncomfortable. He knew where Kokko was heading with this conversation. Noritaka didn’t want Kokko to bring it up in front of Saki, or in general. Kokko, on the other hand, wanted Saki to know. He thought it was about time for Noritaka to accept the facts and move on. He didn’t want Noritaka to live in the past forever. With Saki here, now was the perfect time.

Looking straight at Saki with intense eyes, Kokko asked, “Has Noritaka ever mentioned Chihiro to you?”

“Stop,” Noritaka meekly said in an inaudible voice.

Sensing the severity of the topic at hand, Saki nervously looked at Noritaka, who was beginning to tremble. Her eyes darted back to Kokko, who looked at her with dead serious eyes.

“Has he?” insisted Kokko.

“Stop,” this time his voice was a little more audible.

Saki’s eyes darted back to Noritaka, whose trembling was now clearly visible. She was uncertain of what to do. It seemed to her that Kokko was exposing a piece of Noritaka’s past that he clearly didn’t want her to know about. Yet, there was a flicker of curiosity in her. If he was caught up in the incident, then there was a slight chance he could know, and Saki didn’t want to give that up. She gave Kokko the tiniest of headshakes.


Noritaka slammed the table with both hands and got up, causing his chair to fall backwards. All eyes in the restaurant turned to Noritaka, who was clearly bothered by something else.

“I’m leaving,” he said, as he grabbed his jacket and headed straight for the door.

Saki was about to go after him, but Kokko grabbed her wrist and said with a stern voice, “Stay. You need to know.”