THE COLOR. The color that spread across my field of vision.
The first thing I remember was equally as white.
As the name White Room implies, this facility is based on the color white.
The ceiling is no exception.
I was staring at that white ceiling in my first memory.
Before showing any interest in staring or playing with my fingertips, I simply wondered what this white ceiling was.
Day after day, I spent more and more time just staring at that ceiling.
At first, I cried. I cried because I missed people, and then I learned that no one was coming to help me.
Now that I look back on it, it was instinct, not logic.
This is the first thing a newborn baby, who cannot even speak, learns when it accepts its environment.
After that, I realized the existence of my fingers.
I spent all day long looking at, sucking, and licking my little fingers, and nothing else, in the emptiness.
The nourishment necessary for life was brought to us by the cold adults.
This is no different in the case of illness.
The treatment was carried out without hesitation, and daily life returned as if nothing had happened.
No one panicked, no one worried, no one rejoiced.
Eventually, you learn. You realized that you're being carefully cared for here.
Human beings have feelings of joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure.
But none of them are of much use in this facility.
The children, with their still undeveloped brains, learned that early on.
No wonder. Whether you laugh or cry, get angry or sad, the instructors weren't there to help you.
The only time I could move forward was when I achieved something.
The first time I remember that I recognized communication as a language was when I was two years old.
The instructor was sitting in front of me and I was sitting in front of him.
There was nothing in between—just the instructor holding out both of his open hands to me.
Not long afterward, the instructor placed a small little gummy bear in his right hand in a very conspicuous way.
For the children living in this facility, this snack was a rarity.
The sweetness that they were usually deprived of. As a child, I was no exception; I remember having the same cravings as anyone else.
"Guess where the gummy is, and you can eat it."
The adult who held a gummy bear in his right hand extended it to me.
His expression was stern and almost expressionless.
On the other hand, the child facing him—me, Ayanokouji Kiyotaka—was also emotionless.
Both of us had the same expressionless face, but I was in a natural state while the instructor was consciously trying to be silent.
And the other kids were also naturally emotionless.
I could sense that the other children were well aware of the fact that emotions can be a stumbling block.
There were one-on-ones between adults who hid their emotions and children who had minimal emotions.
"I'll give you a chance until you miss three times."
The instructor muttered to himself in front of me.
I still don't understand the adult language—the meaning of every syllable within those words.
Missing, chance—neither of these words can truly be understood by a two-year-old child.
However, they can instinctively sense what's being appealed to.
I could sense what was being asked of me.
I touched his right hand, just as I had seen.
Without hesitation, the instructor opened his right hand and gave me a small gummy bear.
At the same time, other children were also trying to guess the gummy's location.
All of the instructors clutched the gummy in their right hands, and all of them answered correctly.
This time, he held the gummy bear in his right hand, but immediately after that, he put it back in his left hand and offered it to me.
Of course, I touched the left hand without hesitation. Another correct answer.
This simple process was repeated twice more, yielding a total of four gummies.
Although they weren't very sweet, they were a valuable snack in this white room and were well received by the children. I remember that I, without exception, enjoyed the taste of these gummies.
Fifth time. This time, the instructor crossed his arms behind his back, grabbed a gummy bear, and held it out to me.
The strength of his grip and the position of each hand were almost the same.
The instructor's expression didn't change, nor did his gaze.
In this case, there was no way to judge objectively which of the instructor's hands clenched the gummy.
The probability was 50/50 in either case.
In that case, time efficiency was the priority here.
I randomly touched the right hand; it was empty. The other children were divided into two groups, and although the ratio of children who picked the right hand was a little higher than the left, there was no clear reason for this. However, as expected, all the instructors held the gummy bear in their left hands.
The instructor hid his hand behind his back again, clenched it, and then brought his arms forth.
I wondered if he would continue to make us guess the 50/50.
There was no point in choosing either of them, but I dared to choose the left one.
After a short thought, I decided not to answer immediately but to observe what was nearby.
The children were so focused on the instructor and the gummies in front of them that they neglected to pay attention to their surroundings.
This time, the majority of the children pointed to the left hand, but the correct answer was the right hand.
Then, the instructor in front of me was most likely holding the gummy bear in his right hand.
I pointed to his right hand, and after a short pause, it opened to reveal a green gummy bear.
You weren't praised for guessing it correctly, but at least you were allowed to eat the gummy.
Rolling the gummy on the tip of my tongue, I concentrated again. The instructor clutched the gummy again behind his back.
He held out each of his hands at the same time.
Of course, this time, I observed my surroundings in the same way…
When all the children had finished pointing, there was no sign of the instructors opening their hands.
"You are the last one."
This meant that they won't open their hands until all the children had given their answers.
Since there was no hint at all, I continued to point to his right hand.
All at once, the instructors opened the palm of the indicated hand.
However, all of them missed it. Both the children who pointed to their right hands and the children who pointed to their left hands got it incorrect.
At this point, many children missed three times and won't be getting another chance.
I had only one chance left.
Similarly to the previous two occasions, the gummy was clenched behind the instructor's back. There was no way to tell which hand it was in from the outside and no sign of hands opening after the few remaining children had finished playing.
In this case, it didn't make any difference whether the right hand or the left hand was used.
I wondered if this was really true.
One last chance.
If it wasn't held in either of these hands, then…
The instructor didn't say which hand had the gummy bear.
He only asked us to point to where the gummy bear is.
So it was possible that they were hidden somewhere other than in the left or right hand.
I let that childish thought run through my mind and pointed behind without touching either hand.
He didn't answer and just stared at my movements.
"Why are you pointing back?"
"Gummy, hand, no."
I replied in such a way that showed I still didn't have perfect control over the language.
Without saying a word, the instructor opened both hands at the same time.
Then, I found a small gummy bear in his right hand.
"That's too bad. The right hand is the correct one."
The instructor then popped the small gummy in his mouth.
One of the two remaining children had answered correctly for the right hand and was given a gummy bear.
"I'll give you one more chance, just for the heck of it."
He took out a gummy bear and held it in his hands behind his back as if to repeat the process, and stuck out his arms.
I thought his hands were empty by hiding them behind his back, but in fact, they were held in his right hand. Then, did I simply miss the 50/50, and it was never hidden from the beginning of this match?
Or, after hiding it twice, did he hold it in his right hand, anticipating that we would read it that way? The possibility that both hands were empty is more probable than the possibility that they were holding something. The other remaining child pointed to the instructor's left hand.
What's the right thing to do…?
Was it the right hand, the left hand, or was it hidden behind?
After thinking about it, I took a gamble. I rejected the right and left hands, judging both to be empty.
The instructor opened his hands. In his left hand was a small gummy bear.
"Too bad. Another miss. Are you disappointed?"
It's true, I was disappointed.
I nodded slightly.
It wasn't because I wanted gummy bears.
It was more like frustration that I was wrong.
"I guess this kid is different after all."
The adults gathered around and whispered to each other.
My two-year-old mind couldn't comprehend the meaning of the complicated words, so I only remember them as a list of words.
"All the children, with the exception of Kiyotaka, were honestly trying to guess everything between left or right. But he observed the choices of those around them and was clearly aware of the possibility of a third option, which was the option that the gummy was hidden behind our backs. Moreover, even after proving that it wasn't hiding behind my back, he didn't abandon the possibility. This isn't the thinking of a two-year-old."
"You're overthinking this, aren't you?"
"But in all the tests I've done, this is clearly the only child who thinks differently; he's the only one who has a different point of view."
In the midst of these incomprehensible thoughts, the instructors' words were etched in my memory.
I thought, in the future, I may be able to get some hints from this conversation.
When I grew up, I could just open the drawers to my memories.
"...The way he's looking at me is creepy. I wonder if he even understands what we're talking about."
"No way… He's two years old. There's no way he understands more than the bare minimum of what we're saying."
"That's true, but…"
A buzzer sounded, announcing the end of the test.
The adults looked at each other, ordered the children to stand by, and walked out.
Given this familiar scenery, the kids saw them off without any of them crying.
Any fear that we'd be left alone has long since disappeared.
There was no help for us.
This was something we learned in our bones at the age of two.
Another fragment of memory to be dug up.
In the process of erasing unnecessary memories, there are things that come to mind.
"Take your seat and state your name."
State your name—.
The brain received the instruction, and the brain quickly transmitted the signal to the throat.
It was a symbol. A sequence of letters.
An important element to distinguish humans.
All of us White Room students were taught names as one of the ways to identify individuals. However, when we were young, we weren't told our surnames, and all the instructors called us by our first names.
Although I had no way of knowing it at the time, there would be an inconvenience created by teaching us our surnames. It seems that it was a rule based on the fear that it might lead to the children's identification in the future.
By the time the children were four years old, a new curriculum was beginning to be implemented one after another.
"Now then, let's commence the test."
The most important of these was a written test.
All students straightened their posture and faced the test papers.
The test consisted of five writing systems: hiragana, katakana, the alphabet, numbers, and simple kanji.
Since we'd already spent a whole year being thoroughly taught reading and writing when we were three, there was no hesitation in their fingertips' movements as they held the pen.
The students were penalized if they didn't achieve a certain level of performance in a limited amount of time.
In addition, the students were also required to have good handwriting.
Even if your handwriting was good, you won't receive any points if you get the answer wrong, but if you write poorly in a hurry, points will be deducted from your score, so we had to be careful. No one at this facility asked whether or not we can solve the problems we face.
This is only true because the only children left were those that were capable of solving them..
Those who couldn't were dropped at the age of three.
Our group, called the fourth generation, had a total of 74 students in the early years.
However, as mentioned above, children who were deemed to be unable to do so at the age of three had already dropped out of the White Room.
Therefore, all 61 of us then shared almost all of our time together, excluding bedtime.
The written test was 30 minutes long, but there was enough time to complete it in about half to two-thirds of the time limit if we solved the questions without hesitation.
This was true for all the previous written exams held in the White Room.
Solve the equation and move on to the next. Determine the answer and write it down.
At the same time, you review the previous question to see if you've made any mistakes.
When I finished, I raised my right hand straight up.
After signaling that I was done, I turned the paper over.
Getting a perfect score on the written exam was the minimum requirement. At the same time, you were required to be a neat and speedy writer.
This was the 7th written exam since I turned four years old, and I've won first place four times in a row. The first time I took the written test, I was ranked 24th, the second time 15th, and the third time 7th. I didn't have a good start.
It took me a while to figure out how the written exams worked, its logic, and its efficiency.
Once I solved that, I haven't been overtaken, and I myself have been improving my certainty even more.
The gap between me and the second-place finisher was widening with each written exam, and now the time gap was about five minutes.
Regardless if I got a perfect score or first place, I would never be praised by anyone.
When everyone finished, we moved on to the next part of the curriculum.
"Now we'll start Judo. Everyone please change and follow the instructor to another room."
Martial arts. This was another curriculum added when we turned four, as was the written test.
I've already been taught judo for four months.
While being trained in the basics, we progressed to the stage where we had to fight in actual combat.
My vision shook and I felt a strong pain in my back.
In the confrontation with the instructor, the children were always made to taste this bitterness.
I was no exception.
The relentless slamming into the floor, making it impossible to breathe, didn't allow you a break.
If I didn't get up immediately, I would be reprimanded again and again. Next, arms that were many times thicker than mine flew at me.
I was slammed to the floor again, and I tried desperately to catch myself, but I couldn't absorb the damage.
While I was being knocked down to the ground, similar occurrences were happening all over the place.
All the kids were crying and sobbing while being thrashed around.
"I can't… I can't stand up…!"
As if begging for forgiveness, Mikuru clung weakly to the instructor's leg.
"Still, get up!"
The girl was forced to stand up as the instructor forcibly shook off her hands, but her body seemed to be immobilized.
The fact that's a girl wasn't taken into consideration here.
"I told you to stand up!"
The girl was kicked, spun around and around on the floor, and sprayed vomit all over the place.
Of course, the adults weren't kicking seriously.
Even so, it was obvious to everyone that the force of the kick was unbelievably strong.
"I don't give a damn, even if you're a kid! You already know that!"
The average mind would have a strong resistance to hurting a child this much.
But the instructors who've been called to the White Room aren't ordinary.
They were the kind of people who had no qualms about sending women and children to the brink of death.
"No one will cry if you disappear! Stand up and face them on your own!"
Mikuru, convulsing and unfocused, put her hands on the floor and tried to get up.
"Yes! That's it! Show some spirit!
"Uh, uuh… Ugh… gh…!"
But the previous kick Mikuru took was critical, and she collapsed and lost consciousness.
"Damn! You gutless bastard! Get her out of here! Get out of my way!"
The instructor, who had been making irritating footsteps, shouted angrily as he forcibly removed Mikuru from the room.
Do you believe such a scene is tragic?
If so, you should change how you think.
This is only the beginning. Excessive reactions like Mikuru's were decreasing day by day, and even the expression of pain was fading away.
Even human instincts were eliminated by the brain as superfluous functions.
It was natural to be thrown. It was natural to have difficulty breathing. It was natural to hurt yourself to the point of sobbing. And even thinking about it was a waste.
The only way out of the situation was to keep trying to reduce the number of times you get thrown within the time limit.
Of course, the most ideal situation was to defeat your opponent.
But the opponent was far superior in strength, size, and skill.
Needless to say, it wasn't easy to bridge the gap between adults and children.
After being forced to fight intensely and breathlessly, everyone rose to their feet, battered and bruised.
After an intense education from our instructors, we were obliged to take part in hand-to-hand combat with three others at the end of the day.
The children never look tired.
I've learned that any prey that seems weak was doomed to be hunted by the strong.
My record was 144 fights, 127 wins and 17 losses. And I was currently on a 64-fight winning streak.
The fights were rotated between male and female opponents, but Shiro stood in front of me, silently waiting for the signal to begin.
Shiro had an overwhelmingly good record of 135 wins and 9 losses.
I've played against Shiro twice, winning once and losing once.
I lost my first Randori match, but I had not lost since the first rotation; however, among the other students, Shiro had the best judo skills.
Because he was a formidable opponent, he was able to sharpen his sensitivity even more.
Shiro had always been aggressive and took the initiative in his fights against others, but today, in his third match, he seemed to be taking a wait-and-see attitude, aiming to create counter-attacks.
(TL Note: randori : Basically a 1v3 judo match)
This was something I welcomed, as I wanted to gain experience in attacking a strong opponent.
At the instructor's announcement, we fought each other to the bitter end with defeat on our backs.
Win or lose, we moved on to the next lesson as if nothing had happened.
Karate is a martial art that started somewhat later.
Here, the students were subjected to more direct blows from the instructors than in judo.
The variety of martial arts will probably increase again as we reach five or six years old.
That was the common inference among all the children.
By the time I was five years old, the number of children had dwindled even further down to about 50 at one point.
No one cared. There was no time to care.
Here, the only thing they want is our ability.
There was no end.
No, if there was an end, it was endlessly far away.
Once you falter, you'll never be able to catch up again.
Do you believe this is extraordinary?
I don't. This was everyday life for me.
One day, when the number of people in the group had already decreased considerably, we had dinner together.
The meal was being served with everyone present. During the meal, the instructor left the table and the children were left alone. However, we've never had a direct conversation.
The whole time, I've only heard their voices through the instructor.
Why don't we talk to each other?
It wasn't forbidden by the instructors.
We just didn't have conversations because there wasn't a need to talk in the first place.
We knew each other's names through the instructors, we knew how good each one was in their studies, and we knew how athletic each of us was. All of our inner abilities were laid bare.
There was no food that they like or dislike.
The rule of eating only what was served applied to all of the children.
In other words, there was no need for dialogue regarding meals.
There was no sense of fellowship among us students.
The others' presence that neither helps nor hinders is just, somehow, no different from the scenery around us.
"I don't like…"
I heard a girl named Yuki, who always sat in front of me, whisper.
It wasn't problematic behavior, since we weren't forbidden to speak during the meal. It was just that no one spoke because no one felt the need to.
This was the first change in the precedent.
I thought she would stop talking because no one responded, but Yuki didn't.
"Do you like it, Kiyotaka?"
She asked me if I liked or disliked the carrots in front of me.
To answer or not to answer.
But to begin with, I've never thought of the concept of liking or disliking carrots.
I only considered them as one of the nutrients that we should consume.
The main nutrient in carrots is Beta-carotene.
It has the ability to change into vitamin A when taken into the body.
It's effective in preventing cellular aging and maintaining healthy skin and mucous membranes. It's also very important for immunity against viruses.
"Do you like carrots?"
"I don't like them either."
The answer wasn't from me, but from Shiro, who was sitting on my left.
Yuki looked at him in surprise.
While I was distracted by the dialogue between the two, I checked the surveillance camera.
Of course, the instructors were watching our meals on a daily basis. There was no way they couldn't have picked up on the sound. Since there was no response from the instructors, and they didn't criticize us or anything, this kind of conversation must be allowed.
However, we've never been asked to engage in dialogue with each other.
As long as there was no merit in bothering to engage in dialogue, there was no need to follow the two and respond.
Still… I thought about it for a moment.
You either like carrots or you don't.
…The answer was: I don't hate them.
After the meal, I've always had a little trouble. I never learned how to kill time.
Just sitting and waiting was the easiest and only option I had.
However, Yuki wasn't like that, and after dinner, she walked around the room by herself.
I thought it was a waste of energy to walk, but I kept silent and watched her.
She walked around the small room for about three laps when she passed right in front of me.
Yuki almost tripped and fell in front of me.
I instantly stretched my arm and prevented her from falling down.
"It's strange to fall down in the middle of nowhere, isn't it?"
After I analyzed the situation, Yuki widened her eyes and looked surprised.
"Or is it just fatigue? No, it doesn't look like that to me."
I couldn't understand why she fell down.
And it seemed the same was true for Yuki.
"Yeah. I'm not tired, but I fell down. Weird, isn't it?."
When she said this, a look came over her face that I had never seen before.
It was the first expression created by her facial muscles, the orbicularis oculi muscle around her eyes, and the wrinkled brow muscles near her eyebrows.
I had never seen such a look on the other students' or adults' faces.
The girl herself seemed to understand my wonder.
"That… Now, I…"
You can see the confusion and bewilderment on her face.
I can see why.
I never learned that. I was never taught that look.
But I know it.
It didn't take me long to realize that it was a smile.
It was an instinct that we're born with, or perhaps even before we're born.
That may be why she could express it without having to learn it.
The White Room children aren't taught many of the rules required to survive in this world.
However, there were a few strict regulations.
This didn't change even in the latter half of our fifth year.
"It's time to get up."
The timer rang without a second's delay, accompanied by an uncaring voice announcing the time, and the children in the small room began to wake up.
Before we rose from our beds, a staff member would come into the room and remove the electrodes attached to our bodies.
Then he'd get up and immediately check our health.
The busy, mundane daily routine unfolded in front of us.
After checking for any changes in height, weight, etc., we would go to the bathroom to urinate.
Urine samples were taken once a month, and a small amount of blood would be drawn at the same time.
After the examination, the staff members leave the building without exchanging greetings.
We were then rehydrated and warmed up with 30 minutes of basic training.
After keeping daily physical records such as grip strength measurements, everyone would step into the training room at the same time and complete the quota assigned to each gender. There was no option as to what would happen if the quota wasn't achieved.
The quotas were to be met by everyone because it was a given that everyone would meet their quotas.
Those who fail to do so won't be allowed to set foot in this room from tomorrow onwards.
By the time these steps were fulfilled, it would be 8:00 AM.
At the time, breakfast was more nutritionally oriented and more efficient than it was in my earlier childhood, with supplements and blocked nutrition.
To eat well or not to eat well.
Whether I liked it or not.
It was as irrelevant as ever.
Eat the food in the order in which it was served.
That was all there was to it.
After the meal, the day's curriculum would begin.
The fields of study were diverse, ranging from Japanese and mathematics to economics and political science. The day's curriculum was repeated until noon, with small breaks in between.
Lunch was the same as breakfast, and the curriculum resumed in the afternoon.
After sitting at our desks studying until 5:00 PM, the physical training began.
It all ended at 7:00 PM.
During this time, we don't speak a single word of our own accord.
After dinner, bathing, and physical examinations, it would be 9:00 PM.
This would be the first time we held what's called a "meeting," a time for conversing to review the day.
The children were alone in a small space with no teachers present.
But they weren't free to talk about any topic.
How did you feel and how did you cope with today's studies?
This was a time for the students to organize and examine their feelings and responses to the day's studies.
Adults didn't get involved unless they recognized that it was an unnecessary private conversation.
Even silence was allowed, regardless of profit or loss, as long as the rules were followed.
The set time was only 30 minutes, but I always merely listened to what was being said and had never felt like actively talking. Even though children were allowed to talk among themselves, their conversations were overheard by the adults.
Even this dialogue was part of the curriculum.
However, no special quota was given.
At the same time, it may be a measure to draw out the children's true feelings.
If we set a quota, it would naturally turn into a dialogue for that purpose.
At 9:30 p.m., we would all be sent back to our rooms.
We were required to go to the bathroom and lie down in bed by 10:00 p.m.
Electrodes were attached and the lights would go out.
Medical checkups were always required.
Every day, 365 days a year, there was always time to check on the day's progress.
This was the end of the day.
From waking up to going to bed, this was the educational policy.
Our schedule was set down to the minute.
A day in the White Room.
A world that never changes each year.
Every few months or years, there came a time of great change.
That's when some of the children began to have trouble keeping up with the curriculum.
The level of study increased by two or three difficulty levels, and little by little they began to fall behind.
It was clear that even after the same amount of time spent learning, there were differences among the individuals.
When they were first taught addition.
When they were first taught multiplication.
They started out equally, but then others realized that they were superior to each other.
Along the way, they can rewind and move on to the next step, but often the child who is noticeably behind stumbles at the next step.
I'm sure that the adults didn't welcome the children dropping out.
However, they couldn't keep children who weren't keeping up with the program in the same place indefinitely.
Leaving a child who wasn't keeping up created dissonance, and if you try to accommodate the child who wasn't keeping up, the others' rhythm, who were ahead, would be lost.
The next learning opportunity would be lost.
This was why it was necessary to gradually decrease the number of children.
"10 minutes remaining."
Prior to the many children dropouts, one of the many tests was a special high-difficulty written curriculum.
During the course of repeated daily study, I noticed something—the difficulty level of this special written test was raised according to the top score. In other words, a perfect score slid up the scale, thus a child with a previous low score would have a more difficult time on the following test.
On the other hand, if the top score was lower than the perfect score, the ceiling was also lowered.
No matter how tough the questions were, there was no room for minor miscalculations, careless omissions, or excuses.
That was why children repeatedly checked their answers even after they solved all the problems on time.
They desperately clutched at their test papers, because even a single mistake would mean the end of the test.
While others around me were busy, I kept staring at the front of the room with a pen in my hand. I kept pretending that I was still taking the test.
In reality, I had already finished answering all the questions and was spending the remaining time idly.
I wasn't worried about the possibility of making a mistake.
Because I knew I didn't make such a mistake.
The questions on the test paper and the answers I wrote down were imprinted in my mind word for word.
"5 minutes to go."
With the announcement, the sound of brushing around me became more intense.
You hear the sound of the erasers' pressure getting stronger from the seat next to you as if they were in an impatient state of mind.
The difficulty of this test had increased by several levels from the previous exam.
During math class, when the students were solving problems such as the equality conditions of additive and synergistic averages, something unusual happened.
I had almost half of the 30 minutes left to answer the final problem and was staring at the front of the room for the rest of the time, waiting for the signal to finish.
Suddenly a man, a representative of the White Room, entered the room with a grim look on his face.
It wasn't unheard of for an adult to show up in the middle of an exam, when a person who wasn't able to keep up with the exam hyperventilates and collapses, or has a seizure or convulsions.
So far, I hadn't noticed any sign of such conditions.
Or, very rarely, a child becomes so intent on solving the problems that they recklessly cheat.
But I soon learned that it was me, of all people, who was the adult's target.
He stopped a little to my left, looked down at the test paper, and then looked at me.
I looked up as he called my name.
"Remember well. A person who has power yet neglects to use it is a fool."
Of course they knew what I was doing.
"Leave the room."
I followed the man out of the room.
"What the hell are you doing, Kiyotaka?"
"What do you mean?"
"'What do you mean'? You don't understand what I'm asking, do you?"
I was shown to a small private room where I was made to sit down.
"I see you've completed all the questions."
"Are you sure you're going to get a perfect score?"
"Of course not."
The questions on the test were deliberately constrained to 80 points.
"Why did you hold back?"
"You didn't instruct me not to hold back."
I knew that I wasn't going to fall behind the wayside just because I didn't get a perfect score.
"You do realize that you're already leading this term, don't you?"
"Then there's only one reason why you held back."
The man pointed at me and said, "Because you noticed how this curriculum works. If you get a perfect score, the curriculum for the fourth generation will become more difficult. Naturally, the number of dropouts will increase. Is that what you wanted to prevent?"
That was the correct assumption.
"Surely you haven't developed a sense of camaraderie with the kids."
I see. So that's the conclusion the adults have drawn.
"Is that what it looks like?"
"Yes, that's what I see."
"And how did Ayanokouji-sensei feel about it?"
I was interested in his answer.
"Holding yourself back to assist your fellow students isn't helping him at all."
Is that really true? I asked myself.
I denied it.
"Then try to convince me."
When ordered to do so, I put my own thoughts into words.
"In the first place, I've never recognized the children around me as my friends."
"Then why didn't you try to get a perfect score?"
"The instructors already knew that I would get a perfect score this time. There's no need to write the answers down on paper every time. It's more time-efficient to leave it blank."
Using unnecessary energy was nothing but a waste.
"It's hubris. Knowledge fades with time. That's why you always do your best to remember. Even if you have the ability to get a perfect score, making mistakes and misremembering can happen. You need to show me your best at all times."
"I won't make a mistake."
"That's a bold statement."
"And that's not the only reason I hold back."
"I know that if I hadn't held back, the percentage of kids who would drop out would be much higher than it is now. So, if I cut corners, we're replacing a world where kids who would normally have dropped out are still here."
"Yes. That's called camaraderie."
"No, it's not. I thought of it as a loss of experience, a loss of contact with the children who are going to drop out."
The instructors looked at each other with questioning looks on their faces.
The knowledge-hungry brain wants to both analyze patterns and seek answers.
"It's easy to dismiss them at this stage. But I'm still in the learning stage. I want to know what I can see and feel from the weak."
"So you think it's too early for them to drop out?"
I nodded. Soon most of the kids around here won't be able to keep up.
"You think your plan is above ours? It's up to us to decide who is dropping out."
"Of course it's your choice. That's how the White Room is."
It was futile to try to crush this man with logic.
All that matters was that there was never a rule against holding back.
But it wouldn't be easy to add a rule against cutting corners.
Even if I got a score of zero, the instructor, who's a third party, would be the one to judge me for holding back.
They won't fail the exam because of that. However, it doesn't mean that the instructor can treat a person who got a score of 0 as if they had scored a 100, either.
"Is it OK with you? If he thinks this way, let's see what happens."
"What do you think, Suzukake?"
"I agree with Ishida-san. If he does something we haven't thought of, I'll be very happy."
The man was silent for a while and then dropped his gaze on me.
"Do what you want. But don't forget what I said."
Not utilizing one's power is a fool's errand.
Whether it was true or not, I decided to remember it as a moment of interest.
At the same time, however, another emotion peeked out.
I was beginning to feel that I didn't like this man.
I began to understand how Yuki felt when she said she didn't like carrots a little more.
Just as I was being taken back to the rooms to sit down, the buzzer sounded.
All at once, the children placed their pens on their desks.
That was the rule.
But there was one sound that didn't vanish after the buzzer sounded: the sound of a pen crunching on a piece of paper.
This wasn't unusual.
A boy continued his test, breathing hard and sobbing.
His attitude to continue the test didn't change even when the door opened and the adults entered the room.
He was forcibly grabbed by his right arm.
"No! Let go of me! No! I can still solve it! I can do it! W-waah, waah! I don't want to drop out!"
In addition to the excessive pressure, he realized his defeat and sprayed his gastric juice all over the test paper.
The vomit spread from the instructors' necks and down onto their clothes, but the adults didn't care, they restrained the child from both sides and dragged them out without regard to the child's resistance. The children were emotionless, with the only exception being when they drop out. In this case, the inevitable end arouses their survival instincts and they lose their rationality. Some of the children looked at each other, but most of them stared ahead without taking any action.
A scream never heard before reverberated through the room and permeated through the automatic door.
As soon as he was taken out, the door closed and silence returned.
They really don't know anything, do they?
They can get any number of points in this particular curriculum and never drop out.
If they can't even recognize that, it's inevitable that they'll drop out.
I had no likes or dislikes.
It not only applied to food, the curriculum was no different as well.
Music (piano, violin, etc.), calligraphy, tea ceremony, and other traditional cultural pursuits.
The only thing that I was unenthusiastic about was the altered curriculum, which was newly introduced after I turned six. It introduced a half-day class held only once or twice a month. It was a class called "travel" using a virtual console.
All the children stood up and put on large goggles at the same time.
Our vision went black, but soon the screen lit up and the program was displayed, and it began after a few moments.
"The curriculum will now focus on Japan, whereas in the past we've studied American cities such as New York and Hawaii. First, we'll start with public transportation."
This was the basic premise of the course. It introduced a world that wasn't just a white room.
This was still learning time, and children were told early on that they won't leave this place until they become adults.
The virtual console reproduced the same outside scenery in 360 degrees with such quality that it could be mistaken for the real thing, and the sound was combined with the visuals to create a sense of presence. Even the people passing by were reproduced, showing a businessman in a suit, an old man with a cane, an elderly woman trying to get into a cab, and other street scenes.
Of course, children were also present, but unlike the reality outside, they didn't appear to be playing or having fun at all; instead, they showed inorganic, machine-like movements.
We learned the history and structure of the world so that one day, when we go out into the outside world, we'll be able to adapt to it without problems.
I knew it was necessary, but I had a problem with this way of learning.
One of the reasons why I disliked it was because it was accompanied by an indescribable feeling of discomfort.
It's what was commonly described as 3D motion sickness.
It's possible that the brain misperceives it as a hallucination if the balance between visual perception and the semicircular canals are incorrect.
There's no way to stop the sickness by individual power alone, and the only way would be to let the brain learn over time.
It wasn't so hard that it was impossible to continue, but it was the reason why I didn't like it.
Of course, the virtual console wasn't only used as a device to perceive the outside world visually but also as a tool to train observation and insight.
We were asked to detect unnatural points in the views that unfolded in various locations.
If what we pointed out was wrong or the unnatural point itself couldn't be found, the instructors gave us unrelenting guidance.
The methods of guidance varied, but it mainly consisted of those that caused pain to the students themselves.
That's why we used our eyes to thoroughly observe, not even sparing the blink of an eye.
The more we feared for our lives, the more our senses sharpened and we began to see things that we couldn't see before.
"Next, let's take a walk in Tokyo on the virtual console."
As we virtually walked through Tokyo, the screen suddenly went dark.
The instructors' voices that I was listening to stopped, and I was engulfed in silence.
"Everyone take off your goggles."
The voice came from inside the room, not through the microphone, and we all followed the instruction at once.
"There's an equipment issue. That's it for today's virtual console lesson. We still have less than half an hour before the next curriculum, so please stay here."
With those instructions, the goggles in everyone's hands were retrieved.
Many of the kids were left standing, seemingly intent on passing the time.
In the end, it seemed that the equipment problem couldn't be resolved quickly enough, and the instructors decided to move on to another curriculum.
The children were, of course, quickly lined up and turned their attention to the next part of the program.
"We're going to read out the names one by one. The first person whose name is called will move with the instructor."
With these instructions, the first three names were called.
In the end, I was the last one to be called. I obeyed, and the instructor walked slowly and invited me into the private room.
There were no other children in the room, and it was a one-on-one with the instructor.
In the center of the room was a small table and two pipe chairs.
"Come on, sit down."
The instructor said, tapping the table and ordering me to immediately sit down.
I sat down in front of the instructor and the five cards in his hands were placed on the table.
Each card had a different symbol on it.
From left to right it showed a circle, square, cross, star, and wave.
"I'm going to put into practice what I'll ask of you to do. Watch carefully."
The instructor faced me, and he took the lead in turning over all the cards.
Since the backs of the five cards displayed the same pattern, it was impossible to tell which card had which mark when the cards were shuffled in this state.
Was he asking me to guess and show him a particular card among them?
That was what I thought, but…
The five cards were rearranged.
"You'll be given only 10 seconds each time."
The instructor then flipped the leftmost card.
A star came out.
The instructor continued to flip the cards, stating the symbols.
"Circle, star, cross, wave—"
The second to the fifth cards were a wave, square, cross, and circle, respectively.
Only the fourth one, a cross, matched and was thus correct. The percentage of correct answers was 20%.
"This is one round, and it'll be repeated ten times. Watch carefully."
Five guesses, ten times. It was 50 times in total.
The same thing was repeated without any hesitation.
The final percentage of correct answers was about 30% with 15 correct answers out of 50.
"So, now it's your turn, Kiyotaka."
I took my seat in place of the instructor, who got up from his seat.
What was the purpose of this practice?
I don't think it was to develop psychic abilities.
In other words, to train intuition?
No, it was hard to think of that as legitimate or realistic training.
The five cards were mixed by the instructor.
When mixing the cards, the instructor always used an overhand shuffle.
Was this just a habit, or was it intentional?
It was impossible to judge, but it was easy to dismiss it as meaningless.
I wondered, if it did have a meaning, what it was.
The table's material made it seem smooth and easy to do a wash shuffle while it was on the table.
Should I dare to use an overhand shuffle?
Another thing that bothered me was that the instructor didn't always line up the cards from the same position.
Sometimes he started from the left end, sometimes from the middle, then from the right end, then from the left end.
I didn't think there were any kind of rules as far as I saw from the 10 times.
This couldn't be dismissed as a habit.
On the other side of the card, I didn't feel any difference even if I stared at it carefully.
In other words, I didn't think that either the instructor or I could distinguish between the two.
However, there was a big difference between me and the instructor.
That is, whether we can or can't touch the cards.
When mixing the cards, when distributing the cards, when flipping the cards, only the instructor was doing all the motions.
What if the instructor didn't want it to be sensed?
It was only because the instructor could see the card, whose answer should be invisible to him.
But even if I could see it, I still couldn't touch it.
I wasn't forbidden from reaching out and touching it, but would that be the proper move?
It was now clear that this wasn't just an exercise in intuition.
Then, a possible rule of thumb was…
Five cards were laid out and the 10-second count began.
In order to increase the percentage of correct answers by even 1%, the first conspicuous mark must be decided upon.
I answered, and the instructor flipped over the leftmost card with an unchanging expression on his face.
"It's a star."
It's still just one-fifth correct.
"Wave, square, cross, circle."
The instructor flipped from the second card to the fifth.
The marks were turned over and matched just what I said they would, thus making them correct.
"You still have nine more to go."
After five correct answers, I was convinced of one rule.
Then the rest was easy.
I then went on to play the remaining 9 rounds. I guessed all 45 cards.
As I finish collecting the previous 50 cards, the instructor looked at me.
In his eyes, I saw an emotion that wasn't there before.
"I didn't realize you had your eye on me from the very first phase."
The instructor showed the first practice. If all he had to do was explain the rules, he would've only had to show the same repetitive content once or at most twice.
However, the instructor silently went through all of the exercises up to ten times, regardless of whether they were successful or not.
This meant that it wasn't a mere explanation of the rules.
They hid the fact that it was a memory test to see if I could reach that realization as quickly as possible.
"And on top of that, a perfect memory. It's hard to believe…"
"I wonder if you've also had them memorized, all lined up the same way they were the first time."
"...No way. I only remembered the five symbols based on the small scratches on the cards that I couldn't see, and the only reason I was able to line them up the same way as the first time was that I received instructions from the intercom in my ear."
"So that's why the cameras were installed in the ceiling."
"...You were aware of that as well."
"I knew it was strange because it was like that guy was talking to me."
When I entered the room, I was approached by a man who seemed to squeeze my free gaze toward a certain part of the room.
It was also unnatural that the instructor urged me to hurry up and sit down.
If for some reason he wanted to proceed with the curriculum quickly, he could have done it faster by rushing me even before I entered the room, or by showing me the practices.
"You're the first one to pass this curriculum in one shot... You can go back."
Considering it was an alternative to my least favorite curriculum, the virtual console, I could say that it was many times more enjoyable.
Inside the White Room, there were rooms dedicated to various curricula.
One of them was a heated swimming pool where one could swim all year round.
Swimming was considered to play a very important role in developing physical skills.
Swimming was also ideal for children's immature bodies because of its low impact on the body itself. The time spent in contact with the water was valuable for the children to relieve stress.
Swimming was taught for two hours at a time, with a 30-minute lesson at the beginning, a 10-minute break afterward, and 30 minutes of competitive swimming with races and target times.
After that, the children were given 30 minutes of free time.
They could swim in the water or take a break.
I always made it a habit to spend the remaining 30 minutes by the pool, observing the children.
"I knew I'd find you here. You set a new record again today."
"I haven't reached the time that the instructor set yet."
"We're children. They're adults. It's not strange that we can't reach it. It's just a little frustrating that I can't beat Kiyotaka anymore."
Until a few weeks ago, Yuki was the fastest swimmer, regardless of how she swam.
"Once you passed me, the gap between our records has been widening. How can you swim so well? I've been practicing just as hard…"
"Your form is perfect when you're swimming, but it's when you take a breath that your form is off. If you improve your form, you can improve your time a little more."
"Yes, I see... My instructor didn't point that out to me."
"Swimming instructors don't tell you everything. I think they make you aware that you have to find out for yourself."
It's not that I haven't noticed.
"You not only see yourself, but you're also even able to see your surroundings. I don't have that kind of luxury."
"I'm the same way, I'm just biting the bullet."
Many of them, especially those new to the curriculum, were falling behind.
Without the fundamentals, one would be too focused on memorizing to get results.
On the other hand, people like Yuki and Shiro often got good results the first time.
They were able to quickly grasp the basics even though they didn't know them.
I guess you could call it a sense. That was the difference.
But I didn't envy them.
It has been proven in many curricula that you can make up the difference by learning and consolidating the basics, regardless of the initial gap.
It was okay if you weren't good at first. The first step was to build the basics and learn to apply them to yourself.
Yuki stood still and didn't walk away. She kept looking at me.
"...Do you still need something?"
"Is it strange for me to speak with you without purpose?"
"Yeah, it's weird. Normally, you'd talk to me if you needed something."
"You're the same as always."
I didn't look at her and started to think about Yuki.
Recently, she had been talking more and more.
And she was speaking in a different way from herself originally.
She was talking to me more and more often even when she had nothing to say.
Why did she do such inefficient things?
She wasn't a bad subject for observation.
Besides, now I won't be reprimanded since there weren't any instructors watching and listening nearby.
Of course, we couldn't deny that we were being watched, but we weren't to be blamed for it.
"Can I ask you a question?"
Yuki, puzzled, didn't expect such a response back.
"How come you're so good at conversing?"
"What? How come I'm so good at talking? I don't know."
"You're at least better than me. I'm just not willing to speak."
"I'm not really motivated either, but... I'm just... I don't know..."
She didn't know what she was talking about, but she was willing to talk about it? That's what I didn't understand.
"Then how can you laugh? You laughed before."
"Why? ...I don't know that either."
"Don't you get it? Even though you're changing it, you don't know?"
"Because I can't laugh now."
Sure, Yuki laughed before, but I don't remember seeing her laugh since then.
Did she laugh only once by chance?
Are emotions formed by such coincidences?
"I don't know, but I think I can laugh again when I'm around you, Kiyotaka."
"I don't understand."
Was it possible that we can't feel the emotion that creates laughter unless we were around a certain person?
No, maybe she had a point.
When the instructors showed their anger, most of it was directed at someone else.
Smiles are also directed to someone else.
It wasn't hard to understand.
I looked at Yuki.
I tried to smile.
As I thought, I didn't know how to smile.
I hadn't even learned the basics of anger, sorrow, and joy.
Without the basics, you can't do anything.
If we haven't learned it, then we don't need to feel it.
I had already stopped thinking about this.
Children are designed to forget most of their memories from their early childhood, such as when they're one or two years old.
This is called infantile amnesia.
The youngest memories that can be recalled in detail are usually those from around the age of three.
However, it isn't true that infants can't remember anything at all.
Some of them can remember details of their early childhood.
The only proof that this was true is that the child in front of my eyes remembers it well.
For him, he was just looking back at his memories and putting them into words.
But that's something no ordinary human being could ever do.
An experiment with gummy bears at the age of two and the curriculum that followed.
Kiyotaka was selecting and storing the necessary memories.
I myself remember vividly dismissing it as a child's fantasy.
After listening to the past seven years of Kiyotaka's life, Tabuchi and the others in front of me were very excited.
"If you publish the results of this research, you will turn the conference upside down… Your child has achieved results that are on a different level from all the other children who have come before him."
"Tabuchi, I don't care if it's my child or not. Just tell me in a few words how great he is."
"Yes, sir. It has been proven that babies are capable of learning and remembering while they are still in their mother's womb. However, it was commonly believed that the ability to learn during infancy is very unripe and unstable and that memories cannot be fixed. Or, memories are stored, but as they develop, they are buried in the depths and cannot be retrieved. It was thought to be one or the other. However, your son… No, Kiyotaka can retrieve them without difficulty."
"How does that make him superior?"
"For example... if we take only the three years between the ages of zero and three, we have a memory advantage of 1,095 days. Of course, it's not that simple, but the secret of his overwhelming learning ability is also related to this."
So, even if he started side by side with the other children, there was a big gap in ability at age three.
"He's a genius, that's for sure!"
It was the nature of a researcher to talk with a look of unquenchable excitement.
However, we cannot simply rejoice in this.
The White Room is meaningless if it's just referred to as a single word like "genius."
"Unfortunately, neither I nor Kiyotaka's mother are very bright. In that sense, it isn't directly related to heredity.
"But we can't rule out the possibility that it's a mutation, can we?"
"That's... I agree. We don't know everything about genes yet."
"You know what? We're not here to find geniuses from the moment they're born. Remember, the goal is to make the best of even the poorest DNA."
The fact that such an entity exists is a good thing in itself.
But I wished it wasn't my child.
A third party would think that I had given my own child a special education.
It's lamentable that most of my peer's children, who went through the same curriculum, have turned out to be useless pieces of junk.
I gave the word and brought Kiyotaka back to the fourth generation.
I have plans to show Sakayanagi, who had been invited as a guest, the current state of the experiment.
"I have a suggestion on how to make use of his talent; how about making the non-fourth generations aware of his existence? Competition will help them to improve. It would be especially exciting for the kids who're competing for first place in their respective terms."
There's certainly nothing wrong with having high ambitions. It's not surprising that having a limited mindset while being in the top environment makes one's room for growth doubtful.
Many researchers, including Ishida and his colleagues, agreed with this opinion.
However, Suzukake voiced a negative opinion.
"Not a bad idea. I agree that it's important to have a goal. But it's meaningless if the goal is unattainable. That's how big the gap is between Kiyotaka and the rest of the kids."
"...You have a point."
"It's important to make them believe that they may be able to catch up with him even though they feel it's a high goal. We should control the information we disclose and make him appear less capable than he really is. The top kids will still doubt his very existence, but you can show them evidence of his actual existence so that they can only understand through indirect scenes."
So the rest of them will automatically continue to fight in a world of rivalry and non-communion.
"You can do whatever you want, but please don't favor Kiyotaka and continue to educate the remaining fourth-generation students as you've always done."
"Even if the number of dropouts continues to increase?"
"I don't care even if Kiyotaka drops out. If we can see the results of our efforts, we can determine a line of defense in the event that more talented students are born in the future."
We must not be satisfied with immediate results; we must instead aim for even greater heights.
If my son goes down in the process, he may be able to gain some sympathy from outside.
We'll make our enthusiasm for this project known.
"The fourth-generation students are being given the Beta curriculum, but there's some cause for concern. The end result of this rigorous education is that they will mentally mature too quickly."
When Suzukake responded, Tabuchi immediately began to offer additional explanations.
"Perhaps by the time they reach the age of junior high and high school students, they may reach the mental age of 20... No, I'm afraid that by the time they reach the age of junior high and high school students, they may have reached the mental age of almost 30 years old. The gap between that and their ignorance of the world can, on the other hand, make them appear terribly juvenile."
Too many extremes are also a problem.
"A different approach is required somewhere so that they can learn and grow of their own volition. But that would be a big gamble that could be changed by strong outside influences and could significantly lower the value of the work as an art form."
Suzukake's face, which has been at the forefront of the project up to this point, was hard and heavy.
That was how much he was worried about the possibilities that lie ahead.
"Excuse me, sir, but Sakayanagi-sama has been taken to the observation room as scheduled. What shall I do now?"
It's about time you came in...
"Let him stay for a while. And keep the curriculum you show him bland as planned. If you show him something too stimulating, he'll reject it."
I got up from my seat and walked to the observation room instead of immediately going to Sakayanagi.
I turned on the surveillance camera audio capturing the observation room. Basically, Sakayanagi is in a neutral position, but he could turn to the opposing side at any moment.
Although it's unlikely, we cannot rule out the possibility that he's here to scout the White Room.
First of all, let's see how probable the risk is.
Through the screen, I could see Sakayanagi and a girl who seemed to be his daughter in his arms.
Both of them seem to be watching the students in the White Room through the magic mirror.
"Look at them, Arisu… These are the children who may one day carry the future of Japan."
It seems that it wasn't her father's idea to offer to give her a tour.
They were staring at the glass with their hands as if they were devouring it.
They never got tired of it, not even for five or ten minutes.
"What's the matter, Arisu? It's unusual for you to be so interested."
"It's an experiment to artificially create geniuses. I cannot help but be interested."
"…An unchildlike remark, as per usual…"
I didn't see any artificiality between the father and daughter.
"I just think there are a lot of problems with this experiment."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean, there are many humanitarian concerns to this experiment, and it's likely to be criticized from all sides."
I can't believe that she's a young child. She's so calm and has the same eyes and sensibility as an adult.
"I don't believe it's possible to artificially create a genius. Even if someone emerges from this facility, can we really say that it is the result of experimentation?"
(TL Note: The large bunch of italics here represent Atsoumi listening in on Sakayanagi and Arisu's Conversation)
I was going to go see him after I made some decisions, but I was interested in his daughter, Sakayanagi Arisu's point of view.
It wasn't every day you get to hear a child's assessment of the White Room.
"What makes you think that?"
"Because I think that in the end, the kids who made it to the top were just the ones with the best DNA."
"I see. It's true that the curriculum that these children are undergoing is very rigorous. It's possible that the kids who survive it are the ones who were good at it in the first place. You really are bright, just like her. And your personality is similar too."
"I'm glad. For me to be compared to my mother is the highest compliment."
As she pointed out, it's difficult to pinpoint where the line between genius and mediocrity lies.
It's precisely the genes and environment that are essential in the human development process.
It's true that not all children who were given the 'White Room environment' were necessarily superior at the prenatal stage.
"After all, some children survive the curriculum, but only because their parents are gifted."
Sakayanagi seemed genuinely puzzled by a question that even an adult couldn't immediately answer.
"Well, I don't know. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. But I can't dismiss the possibility that the children here are destined for the future."
He explained, but his daughter didn't seem to be interested.
The girl was looking at the student in the White Room more intensely than before.
"...That boy has been handling all the assignments calmly and effortlessly since a few minutes ago"
"Ah, he's sensei's son, isn't he? If I recall correctly, his name is… Ayanokouji… Kiyotaka-kun,"
It seems that she has already noticed Kiyotaka's uniqueness.
"If he's the son of sensei, he'd have good DNA, right?"
"I wonder. He didn't graduate from a great university nor was he an outstanding athlete, his wife was an average person, and neither of his grandparents were gifted, but he was more ambitious than anyone else, and he had an indomitable fighting spirit. That's why he became so great. So much so that at one point, he even tried to run a country."
"Then—isn't he the most suitable subject for this experiment?"
"I guess… He would be the ideal child. But … I can't help but feel sorry for him."
"He's been in this institution since the moment he was born. The first thing he saw was not his mother or father, but this institution's white ceiling. If he'd dropped out early, he could've lived with sensei. Or maybe it's the fact that he's still here that keeps him in the sensei's favor… If so, it's very likely that the ultimate goal of this institution is to raise all the children they educate as geniuses. But right now, it's still in the experimental stage. It's a battle that will end up looking 50 to 100 years into the future. The children aren't here to showcase their talents when they grow up, but to live for the children of the future. Survivors and dropouts are all just a sampling."
"Father, do you dislike this facility?"
Arisu said what I would've liked to in order to get to the heart of the matter.
Depending on his response here, there were many things to consider…
"...I wonder… I may not be able to support them honestly. What if the children raised here grow up to be better than anyone else? If this facility becomes the norm, I think that would only bring the beginnings of misfortune."
In particular, I couldn't see any connection with Kijima.
Only an answer typical of a good person like Sakayanagi keeps coming back.
"Don't worry, I'll break it down for you… I will prove that the creation of a genius isn't determined by education but at the moment of birth."
"I'm sure you're right. I'm counting on you Arisu."
Sakayanagi patted his daughter's head happily, apparently without having any ulterior motives.
"By the way Father, I'm going to learn to play chess."
I turned off the camera and left the room.
"I guess there was no need to worry."
However, we must be cautious.
Now that the announcement time is approaching, you never know what might happen.
Again and again, I repeated the same day.
Repeated the days of learning that seemed to go on forever.
In a world where there were hardly any breaks, we fourth-generation students continued to repeat the curriculum.
There was nothing more to say.
No matter how complicated and difficult it got, what we had to do remained the same.
Tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the day after the day after that, and the day after that. Again and again, I repeated.
The next day came as a matter of fact.
We learned something new.
Absorb. If you didn't absorb, you wouldn't survive.
Once you were branded as a failure, there was no undoing it.
And what was normal yesterday may not be normal today.
The buzzer sounded.
The children followed the rules and placed their pens on their desks.
This was the end of the high-stakes written curriculum.
The test papers were collected and the scoring began immediately.
Meanwhile, the children sat silently in their seats and waited for the results.
However, the results were usually known before they were given out.
All the children who remained here knew how well they answered the questions.
The little girl in the front seat was shaking slightly.
I stared at her blankly, waiting for the right moment.
One of the instructors came in and walked over to the shaking child.
The instructor announced in front of the child… in the same calm tone as usual.
Once again, another student had been disqualified.
The number of remaining fourth-generation students had been reduced to only four, and now one of those seats disappeared.
In the White Room, failure in the training and study phases was never an issue.
It didn't matter how much you progressed leading up to the exam, scoring a ten or a five on the other exams was irrelevant. The instructor would just keep the learning process going without stopping.
It was the final exam that decided everything—whether or not you failed.
If you failed to meet the standards, you'd be judged as having no ability at that point and dropped from the curriculum.
No extra words were included, short phrases were all that mattered.
"I... I don't want to..."
The last thing you'll want to do would be to answer that demand.
If what she said was correct, Yuki's result was only five points short of the passing grade.
To the casual observer, it may seem like only five points, but in the White Room, there was no redemption even if one point was missing.
This was true for many students I have trained against.
Children who failed to meet the passing grade once were generally less capable of learning later in life.
This has been proven. In other words, even if we ignore the situation here and let it go until the next regular exam, they still won't be able to break out of the situation where they're the next top candidate to drop out of the White Room.
In other words, you aren't qualified to remain in the fourth generation once you see that you've hit your ceiling.
"Rotten apples must be removed. Any hindrance will become a burden to our growth."
I guess they didn't intend to spend any more time on this.
One of the instructors reached for Yuki's arm.
"No… I hate it!"
Brushing away his arm, Yuki rushed towards me while still shaken.
"Kiyotaka, save me! I don't want to disappear!"
Spilling tears, Yuki pleaded for help.
I took one look at the instructor who slowly approached me, but I didn't change my indifferent position.
"I can't help you. No, I'm not going to."
"Please! Next time I'll do my best! Next time!"
"Next? Why didn't you try before that? You know there's no next time."
If you can't work hard now, you won't be able to work hard next time.
Continuing was impossible, just as there's only one life.
"But still... I can do it, I can do it...!"
Look at what we've achieved so far. Is that what this is about?
The instructors had me and Yuki surrounded.
I signaled to the approaching instructors to stop and turned to Yuki.
"It's true that you've been following the curriculum except for the written exam. However, your grades kept dropping year after year and never seemed to improve. In other words, this is where your limits lie."
Even if she were to be saved and remained, it would be the instructor's decision, not the decision of the kid that wants to be saved. I could only assume that Yuki was making a mistake by hanging onto me like this.
"No! No! Please! Please let me try again!"
Raising her voice, Yuki showed a peculiar resistance to the instructors.
It wasn't an unusual behavior among the dropouts, but even so, Yuki's behavior was a little different from what we had seen before.
"You know very well the rules of the White Room. Why are you so upset?"
The students in the White Room, including myself, didn't understand the situation.
The instructors, however, knew very well why Yuki was resisting so much.
But they never stated the reason.
They grabbed Yuki by the arms and forcefully pulled her off of me.
"Help me! Kiyotaka!"
She called out my name over and over again, screaming and begging for help.
She reached out to me as she crumbled to the ground, begging for my help.
The girl in front of me had already been disqualified.
The disqualified will leave this room.
And they never come back.
There were no exceptions.
Then why did she need to ask for help?
It was a waste of effort—a waste of time.
"Please, I don't want to leave!"
Two adults, who couldn't stand that she still hadn't left the room, came into the room in a hurry.
The instructors then seized the girl and dragged her out.
"No! No! No! Help me!"
One more person failed to reach their goal and was eliminated.
I'm sure the remaining children were looking at Yuki with the same cold eyes I did.
Or maybe they were scared that they might be next.
All I cared about was that I was the last one standing.
From the beginning, I've been living in this world relying on those feelings alone.
I lived in that white world. A scream that comes from learning together for years, like family, or perhaps something from a different dimension entirely, like affection towards the opposite sex, huh?
To be dragged out of here is a denial of all that we are.
Therefore, everyone repeated their studies within a limited time so that this didn't happen.
I muttered quietly to the instructors.
"Who said you could speak? You won't get away with it the next time you open your mouth without permission."
"Then it's fine if you don't let me get away with it, but please listen to me"
Immediately after those words came out, the instructor fell silent, came up to me, and kicked me without hesitation.
"I didn't give you permission to speak."
"Yuki wasn't feeling well before noon. She seemed restless during the exam, and I think she was unable to show her ability in other areas..."
As I was about to continue, he grabbed me by the chest as if to further interrupt me.
"It is also her responsibility to keep herself in good condition. Do you think that's an excuse now? I didn't see anything wrong with her this morning."
"That's right. But it would be a different story if it was unexpected."
The instructor turned around and looked at the other instructors surrounding the fallen Yuki.
The adults seemed to realize from their observations that Yuki was in an unusual state.
"Bleeding? Did she get hurt somewhere…No, is it that?"
"Yes. Normally, the earliest that this could occur is around 9 years old, but this early is exceptional. It's probably due to the stress, which is different from that of the other students in the class, caused by the difficulty of the course. She also seems to have a fever, so it's no wonder that she's unexpectedly ill."
"Go to the doctor's office. We'll see if she's disqualified or not after we get a closer look at her."
With those words, the instructor instructed Yuki and took her out of the room.
As they were leaving, Yuki looked at me through her tears, but I didn't meet her eyes.
"Well spotted. That's what I would say, but we would've noticed it right after this without you having to point it out. Your unauthorized comments are still a problem."
"So you'll punish me?"
Punishments, such as corporal punishment, would follow after violating rules outside the curriculum.
But that was all there was to it.
I knew that they couldn't take such brutal measures, such as dropping out.
"Do you think I'm joking?"
"If you're going to stand by and keep an eye on me, you'd better watch me more closely."
Too late. The instructor, clenching his right fist and revealing his murderous intent, came at me, but I avoided him.
The instructor tried to retort, but another instructor rushed back to stop him.
"Don't let the kid's comments get to you, newcomer!"
There were some instructors who were inexperienced, but with this new instructor, he will make more mistakes from now on."
That's why there's a need to make it wide-known at this stage.
If they were going to use him, they needed to train him better. If they decided that he was useless, they needed to get rid of him.
In the end, after that day, Yuki never came back.
More fourth-generation students disappeared, and only two were left in the room. Me and Shiro.
It had been several months since the two of us were the last ones alone.
We never spoke to each other once during that time, and every day was just silence.
But I didn't mind. I even thought it was better.
With Yuki's chatter gone, I was able to focus more on my own learning.
That day was the first judo lesson in a few days.
Due to the heightened curriculum, certain events are only offered once every few days.
Still, both Shiro and I were improving our skills. Even though the competitions were different, our training allowed us to become familiar with our skills and we could apply them to many martial arts.
"You two are going to continue with your usual sparring sessions. I'll be out of the room for a bit."
The instructor who was acting as the referee left the room in a hurry as if he'd been summoned.
We were left behind and started our Randori as instructed. We clutched each other's judogi.
Shiro and I had done the same thing dozens and hundreds of times.
"Can I have a word?"
The past months' silence was broken when Shiro whispered in my ear.
I thought it was a mental attack, but he stopped moving completely.
"It's been many, many years since I've last beaten you in Judo, hasn't it?"
I had been winning since the second round after I lost my first fight.
"Boxing, Karate, Jeet Kune Do—it's the same for everything. I'll win the first one or two fights, but once you turn the tables on me, I can't do anything about it. You're really great."
Why would he say that in the middle of a brawl like this?
"I have one thing to say to you."
I listened to the mumbling, which continued at such a close distance that the adults couldn't pick it up.
"I've decided to leave this facility."
"Only the outcasts get out of here."
"So I'm going to drop out and get out of here. If you look at the dropouts' tendencies and the adults who have to deal with them, you can imagine what kind of paths they take. At least I won't be killed."
"What are you going to do out there? Is there a point to that?"
"Yes. I want freedom."
"I want to be free. I want to have friends. Isn't it normal to feel that way? Look around you. It's just me and you. We're going to be like this for over ten years."
I didn't understand what Shiro meant.
Why would he want that?
"Don't you care about the outside world? Or are you able to withstand this pain in the first place?"
I had never had any such interest or doubts.
"One-sided knowledge and this small space—are you satisfied with that?"
"At least I'm not complaining."
I'm definitely growing every day in the White Room.
Didn't he want to know how far he could grow and what his limits were?
You can't get this kind of education in the outside world. This means that you will lose efficiency in self-improvement.
"...You're weird. I want to see the real world, not the virtual one."
Objectively speaking, I had seen many children who were sick and tired of their constrained lives, but the idea of dropping out because I couldn't take it anymore never came to me.
"I was convinced when Yuki dropped out. I even envied her."
If that was the answer Shiro gave, then I had nothing to say.
"I thought you were just like me. I thought you'd want to be out in the world someday."
"I'm sorry, but I've never thought that."
"...I see. I was going to ask you to leave with me..."
I was sure the adults watching over him didn't know this as well as I did.
They didn't know that Shiro had such an enormous amount of feelings about this place.
There was this established notion between the administrators that the children couldn't know what we didn't tell them. But the reality was that there were other people, like the one in front of me, who desired to leave the White Room as soon as possible.
I didn't know if this discovery meant anything as long as I was the last one standing.
"I'm going to go ahead and see you again sometime, Kiyotaka."
I didn't reply to his words.
I only felt his extraordinary determination. I also sensed a determination that I had never felt before, a determination to defeat me in this battle. The opponent in front of me wasn't an easy opponent compared to a half-baked adult. And yet...
Shiro's attack was repelled, and I got a clean blow.
I couldn't lose to an opponent who had learned from the same mistakes I had made.
If he exerted a power of 120, I exerted 130.
If he exerted 140, I exerted 150.
I don't care about the comfort of the White Room or the freedom outside.
The important thing was that there was still much to learn here.
As long as I could improve myself, I shouldn't avoid it.
In other words, my intellectual curiosity was telling me to stay in this White Room.
Even though there was no judge nearby, we were always being watched from another room on the second floor, behind the glass.
Shiro slammed the ball down on the tatami mat, and we were informed that the game had been decided.
"I lost again after all. I should've remembered from when I won."
He rested his arm on his forehead, breathless, and spoke of his faded memories.
"It was five years of losing all the time. I guess I realized that I couldn't win if I stayed here .."
"Are you really going to drop out?"
"Yeah. I'll leave the White Room when the time is right."
He wasn't going to change his mind.
I didn't understand. To leave the White Room was to die, no matter what form it took.
I couldn't think like that.
But Shiro must have had his own thoughts.
If he wanted to kill himself, I wouldn't stop him.
This was the last conversation between Shiro and me.
Not long after that, Shiro dropped out. The only other student was gone.
From this point on, my memory became more monotonous.
There was no one to really talk to. Some days, depending on the curriculum, other than to shovel food down my throat, I really didn't open my mouth.
But even after being alone, what I did hadn't changed.
If anything had changed, it was the general martial arts.
Up until now, I had been competing with the same White Room students, but now that they were no longer with me, all of my opponents became adults.
By the time I turned nine years old, I had defeated all the instructors who had taught me everything I knew about martial arts.
That was probably why the instructors were in a hurry to gather up in the room.
"Kiyotaka, you are now going to fight several people in a real battle. This is the culmination of everything you've learned so far. You are permitted to use any means necessary."
"Also, don't hold back at all. You can do it with the intention to kill them."
"Does that mean I can actually kill them?"
"Unless we stop you, you can take us at our word. Be very careful."
I was in a large training room and a group of adults in suits walked in.
I had never seen them before.
When they saw me, they made silly faces and started laughing.
"I thought it was a joke when they said we're really supposed to fight this kid seriously."
They were clearly different from the adults I had seen teaching fighting techniques.
Their movements weren't fluid, but rough and spirited.
These were opponents who were capable of irregular fights in an uphill battle rather than an even playing field.
Unlike previously, pure physical strength was no match for them. The difference in muscle mass is obvious.
They were the kind of guys that, in a head-on fight, you'd have no chance of winning 100 out of 100 times against.
"Yes, it's ridiculous, but don't cut corners. We're talking about people paying that kind of money just to subdue one kid. You'd think they'd have unusual skills."
It was one of the men who seemed to have some standing among the men that spoke.
"Listen, come at us with the intention of killing us. No, try to kill us. With that much spirit and determination, if you don't come at me with a general idea of what to do, I'd be a little heartbroken beating you up."
The man who seemed to be the leader of the group instructed me to do so.
I was going to do it. I already had my orders.
"We'll give you some weapons if you need them."
He said and placed his shoes on the ground.
The sound of metal scraping against metal echoed off the floor.
"I don't need it."
"...You want to do it with your bare hands?"
"You're probably not joking around but… I'm serious too. Just pick one."
"Sir, is that an order?"
I turned to the instructor, who was looking down at me from upstairs and asked for orders.
"That's an order. Do as the man says. I'm sure you should've been taught how to use all of them already."
Then I'll just obey.
I looked in the bag.
"Baton, stun gun, knife—whatever you want."
Sure enough, I had seen them, held them, and learned how to use them in past courses.
For simple killing power, I'd go for the knife, but I wanted more reach.
"I'll take this one."
Without hesitation, I reached for the baton and grabbed it.
The baton was about 30 centimeters long.
"Do you know how to use it?"
"You swing it and it grows to about 80 centimeters. You hit with it, right?"
In order to win, I must accurately hit the weak points of the human body.
He had probably never fought a fighter of my stature before.
I needed to take advantage of the fact that I was small and short, making it difficult to face me.
After a few minutes, when the last adult fell down with his leg smashed by the baton, I raised it. I struck him on the skull and knocked him unconscious with one blow.
If that didn't work, I would've just delivered a second blow that would shatter his skull.
I heard a voice echoing through the room, and I stopped moving and threw the baton lightly into the distance.
Adults rushed into the room and helped the fallen adults up.
"Oh my god... We've got to get him to the infirmary right away!"
The medical team, who had seen his condition and realized that he was seriously injured, carried him out on a stretcher.
"What the hell were you doing, Kiyotaka?"
"I was ordered to kill him."
To be sure, I even asked again to confirm if it was really alright.
"What's the problem with that?"
The instructors were stunned by the situation, but soon after, the door to the room opened.
"You guys take care of these guys. I'd like to have a meeting with Kiyotaka. Follow me."
Orders were absolute.
I followed him without a second thought.
Usually, there were several instructors by my side, but today it seemed to be just one.
"As I'm sure you're aware by now, I'm in charge of the White Room and I'm your father."
"I know who you are."
"I've never claimed to be your father, but when did you ever learn that?"
"I remember from when I was four years old... when I overheard you talking with the instructors."
"I see. You're a fourth-generation student and you continued to dominate. And the next thing you know, you're the only one left, just silently perfecting the curriculum... No, you continue to exceed it."
To me, the existence of a father was nothing special.
It was just a fact. Nothing more, nothing less.
"You are special to me."
"The White Room has only been in operation for a short period of time, about 14 or 15 years, but even so, I don't see a vision of a genius like you being born in the next few years or so. Of course, with each successive term, they are steadily reducing their shortcomings and overcoming their problems one step at a time..."
It seemed certain that I was being praised.
Just like the talk about being my father, these were simply facts.
"You can go back now."
What was the meaning of that conversation?
Perhaps it had something to do with the device attached to my arm.
As if to confirm this, the man said.
"How did it go?"
"During the fight and during the conversation with Ayanokouji-sensei, there was not even the slightest disturbance in Kiyotaka's pulse."
"His heartbeat was untouched even though I said he was special, or... No, I think it's safe to say that his human emotions have completely stopped functioning.
"It's both a strength and an indelible weakness for Kiyotaka."
"Ishida is right. Emotions are a low priority, but they're still essential. Even half of what's left in an average person is enough, but in Kiyotaka's case, there's almost none. He's suitable and unsuitable at the same time to be an educator, politician, or any other use."
The two talked about various things in front of me, without hiding anything.
I wondered if this was part of the curriculum.
It didn't matter what was praised and what was criticized.
All that mattered was whether I dropped out or not.
"It's probably impossible for him to learn to feel emotions in the White Room environment, isn't it?"
"Yes, but he can use lies to his advantage when necessary. He may not have a lot of emotion, but he's mastered the art of pretending to be something he's not."
"That's the problem. It's too late for him to learn to express his emotions now in the White Room. Then we have no choice but to drastically change the environment."
"...I don't understand."
"You don't understand?"
"We've educated many children from the first generation to the thirteenth generation that's currently in progress. The difficulty level of the curriculum has been very different, but clearly, Ayanokouji Kiyotaka is different. This isn't because he's the son of Ayanokouji-sensei, but because he's an anomaly.
"Indeed, that's true. No matter how harsh the environment is, Kiyotaka showed adaptability sooner or later. Every child has a plateau, but why is Kiyotaka the only one who doesn't have one? Why is it that the more you teach him, the more he absorbs everything as if he were swallowing it all?"
"I don't know... It's easy to say that it's a genetic inheritance, but the White Room will never be truly complete without a thorough investigation of what's going on."
"If I can get a steady supply of people who are as good or better than this kid, my ideal will be realized. Figure it out. Don't give up on the idea until you understand it. That's what you're being paid for."
I continued my education. What awaited me at the end of it all and what laid beyond the quest for knowledge.
That was all I wanted to know.
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