A dozen reporters were crowded around Prime Minister Nakasone, impeccably dressed in a business suit despite the heat of the summer.
"Prime Minister, what is this emergency cabinet meeting about?"
"Is there any progress regarding this autumn's election?"
There was no end to the reporters' questions, but there was a look of irritation on every one of their faces. The mass disappearances centered around Musashino Ward were now an open secret. But under strict orders of silence, none of them could ask anything about it.
Originally, Set had craftily gathered only the residents of an individual ward. After losing Isma, his Assiah world co-conspirator, he had started indiscriminately absorbing humans from everywhere. The situation had gone far beyond the point where it could be concealed.
"I only wish I had the answers you are looking for." Leaving this one comment, the Prime Minister disappeared into the cabinet room with a pained expression on his face.
"I have been waiting for you, Prime Minister." Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujita's cracking voice called to Nakasone as he entered the cabinet chamber.
The prime minister looked painfully at the tired face of the loyal retainer who had been the motivator of his rise to power.
He's been the one who has been fiercely insisting on keeping the disappearances quiet. Now that things have gotten as bad as they are, I have no choice but to make him take responsibility.
Having to do so was one of the weights on the Prime Minister's mind. He had no way of knowing that the Chief Cabinet Secretary was possessed by an Apep.
"Minister of Home Affairs, report on the situation."
"As of 10:00 this morning, the number of missing ranks at 42,500. The areas hit have spread to Nerima Ward and Suginami Ward in the east, and Koganei City in the west. Immediate measures must be taken." Minister of Home Affairs Hanashi, forbidden to send out any search teams, replied with an irritated voice.
"Have a look at the area right now." Defense Minister Kurihara stood and pressed a button on the table. The image of the streets of Musashino City flickered on a screen in front of them. "This is footage taken from one of our Remotely Piloted Vehicles."
Ever since Set had started indiscriminately hunting people, the veil of fog that had blanketed the area had started to clear. The RPV sent a clear picture of its surroundings. The business district by Kichijoji Station, the great green scenery of Inogashira Park, and quiet residential districts sped by onscreen. The image looked eerily peaceful. Hardly anything onscreen was moving. Spinning the dial by his hand, Kurihara zoomed in on the screen. The rays of the sun reflected off the hoods of abandoned cars strewn about Inogashira Avenue. Cats wandered the human-free town as if they owned it.
"What on earth is going on?" Murmurs broke out in the room.
Shortly, the RPV started moving toward the west. The scenery onscreen suddenly changed to that of a tropical jungle.
"What the hell is that?" There was a stir amongst the entire cabinet. Kurihara manipulated the dial and zoomed the camera in even further. A bizarre form filled the screen.
The wet, slimy, gelatinous thing appeared to be an immensely enormous one-celled organism. It was clearly alive; the membrane enveloping its central core throbbed gently. Silently, Kurihara moved the RPV, rotating it around the otherworldy creature that seemed like a skyscraper of flesh jutting into the sky.
"Hey, isn't that a human?"
Nobody responded to Nakasone's exclamation. The ghastliness of the scenery had stunned everyone. A line of people, hundreds of them, led out of the forest, advanced toward the tower. As they approached, they tore off their clothes and, naked, extended their arms in front of them like sleepwalkers before being absorbed into the protoplasm. The transparent jelly dissolved their bodies almost instantaneously, fusing them with the lump of meat.
"Chief Cabinet Secretary, Foreign Minister Hamano, you were the ones who so forcefully suggested we cover this up, no...?" The speaker was Minster of Education Shiokawa. But even the Minister of Education's voice, widely known for its forceful complaints, sounded dry and scratchy.
"This was an unexpected development. There's nothing we could have done!" The words sounded nothing like those of the Prime Minister's right-hand man, the man so well-known for being forthright and honest.
Has he gone mad?
The thought was in everyone's heads as the telephone broke the silence.
"I told you to shut out all calls during the cabinet meeting, no matter what they were!" The officer who answered the phone spoke into it in a hushed voice, but as soon as he heard the speaker on the other end, his face drained of color.
"Prime Minister, we have an emergency phone call from President Reagan of the United States."
"What is it!?" Suspiciously, Nakasone took the receiver. Nakasone was famous for being the most fluent English speaker amongst Japanese politicians. Still, he couldn't help but cry out in Japanese during his conversation with Reagan. "I don't believe it!"
There was a scream from behind him. As Nakasone turned around, he nearly dropped the receiver, forgetting for a moment that he was speaking to the President.
Fujita and Hamano were screaming in laughter, yet without out making a sound. Their faces became purpler by the moment. Fresh blood spewed from their lips, their ears burst, and their eyeballs, staring emptily into nothingness, were expanding as if they were about to pop out of their sockets. A horrible rotting smell permeated the meeting room.
"Let the SP and the paramedics in! Don't let any of this leak to the media!" Ota came to his senses first and issued orders to the gawking officer who had picked up the phone.
Well, I suppose it can't be helped. If these two die here, nobody else will know my secret. Ota's greatest wish had come true.
The heads of the two men, whose features were now distorted far beyond anything normal, limped loosely. Their bodies dissolved into puddles of slime.
In the chaos of people running about in the room, no one noticed the two small white snakes slip out of the now formless bodies lying on the ground.
Ota was laughing inside as everything seemed to proceed as he had planned. His face soon twisted into an expression of terror.
The red eyes of the snakes were watching him closely.
"Aagh!" As Ota reflexively took a few steps backwards, his feet slipped on the blood-drenched carpet. He tumbled to the ground. The two serpents quickly slithered toward his head.
The enormous pillar of flesh was still onscreen, though nobody was watching. The camera angle suddenly changed sharply. The entire screen shook for a moment before it was completely filled with green as the flow of data from the RPV stopped.