Chapter 9 - A Land Where Virtue is Counted
"Oh? Ah, you must be the traveler and the motorrad that arrived two days ago."
"That's right. It's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Kino, and this is my partner Hermes."
"Nice to meet you both. My name is ______. Thank you for coming to our country. Welcome."
"Seeing as your motorrad's fully loaded, and you're enjoying a nice cup of tea in the middle of the day, you must be just about getting ready to leave."
"That's right. I wanted to relax with some of this delicious tea one more time before I left."
"You're so clever, mister. Are you a detective?"
"Haha! Not at all. Just a retired old man. Now, I know you're the only one here and all the other tables are empty, but would you mind terribly if I sat with you? Lend an ear to an old man's ramblings?"
"Trying to hit on Kino? Ahaha, I can't guarantee you'll survive, mister."
"Please, go ahead. You can push Hermes aside if you'd like."
"Haha, if you'll excuse me, Hermes. Waiter, a cup of tea for me, too."
"So what are you going to tell us?"
"I wonder. How about I explain our special legal system? Has anyone told you about our 'Virtue Point' laws?"
"That's the first I've heard of it. Could you tell us more?"
"What is it? What is it?"
"Then let me tell you. In this country, whenever someone does something commendable, he or she is granted Virtue Points. It's a very strict process overseen by the government."
"Oh. So what kind of things are counted as Virtues? And how is Virtue calculated?"
"Yeah. I wanna know."
"There's a great many things you could do, but an easy example to explain would be… something like donating to a charity. If you donate money you earned for yourself to a charity, that amount is calculated as a percentage of your annual income, and you're given Virtue Points accordingly. We use percentages because otherwise we'd be giving the rich an advantage."
"Oh, so it's like pricing speeding tickets according to your income, right?"
"That's right. You can receive Virtue Points for all kinds of good deeds. For example, it's awarded to nationally recognized singers who show people the beauty of music through their songs. Or doctors and pharmacists who find remedies for incurable illnesses and save many people. Or scientists who create inventions that make people happy. Of course, even a small gesture like giving up your seat for an elderly person on the bus qualifies you for Virtue Points. Anyone who witnesses such an action can apply to award the person Virtue Points. And whoever does the reporting is also given a small amount of points for the good deed of bearing witness to such an action. With this system, our country assigns points to those who do good for others. That number is calculated and recorded in the person's citizenship data."
"In other words, you can easily tell who is doing good deeds for other people."
"That's about right."
"And what if someone commits a crime or does something bad to someone else? Do they lose Virtue Points?"
"Yes. For example, if you drink too much and make a huge racket at night and inconvenience other people, you would lose points. Everyone in our prisons have their Virtue Points in the negative range. Their point count is written on the identification cards they wear on their chest."
"This is just small question, but…"
"Oh, I thought the same thing, too. Don't tell me that, uh… Actually, you can go first, Kino."
"Thanks. What happens when someone who's built up a great deal of points through doing good deeds does something bad?"
"Ah, my tea is here. Give me a moment. Ah… Delicious."
"Your country has the most wonderful tea. One sip and I was hooked. I bought a great deal of tea leaves so I could enjoy this taste along my travels."
"I'm very glad to hear that. This tea was developed by a researcher who endeavoured to discover the formula from a sample a merchant brought in from abroad. Ever since then, our people have been blessed with this wonderful drink. The merchant and the researcher were both awarded a great deal of Virtue Points."
"So, if a 'high-earner' like them was to commit a crime…"
"It's just as you imagine."
"It's deducted from your point count."
"I knew it."
"I knew it."
"It's a just system. I'm sure you've heard the saying 'If a virtuous man suddenly commits a crime, the world will see him as a criminal. But if a criminal suddenly does something good, the world will see him as a virtuous man'."
"But that is a mistaken way of thinking. We cannot be swayed by fleeting impressions. In this country, if someone who has built up a certain amount of Virtue Points commits a crime, their sentence is reduced by an amount proportionate to their point count. Let's use that example from earlier--if a virtuous person loses control of his emotions and hits someone--"
"What happens then?"
"What happens? What happens?"
"Normally he would be arrested for assault, but he can pay up the corresponding number of points and have his record cleared. And should this exchange be acknowledged by both parties, the victim is also granted a small amount of points. For forgiving the assailant, of course."
"Oh, I get it."
"But for the people here, losing Virtue Points is very painful. Very few people think, 'I have enough points to get away with a crime'."
"This is all very interesting."
"And I am very troubled."
"I have spent my entire life striving to make this country a better place. When I was young, I was an inventor. I created an efficient engine with minimized emission. Then I established a company and popularized automobiles by selling excellent cars for low prices. I used my profits to sponsor research for a new drug that would cure an incurable disease. I built schools and gave less fortunate children an education. And until just last month, I was the President of this country. I may just be singing my own praises, but I believe I have made life better for many people."
"That's amazing. I bet you have a ton of points, mister."
"Yes… You're right. So very many."
"Enough to get away with one murder."
"At this moment, I am capable of paying for murder with the points I have built up. There has never been anyone in our history who has built up so many points."
"That's amazing… so is that what was troubling you?"
"What exactly might it be?"
"What is it? what is it?"
"I will die very soon."
"I am ill, you see. Our country's medical technology is extremely advanced, but there are diseases that even we cannot cure. As a matter of fact, I've snuck out of the hospital today. In just half a year, I… I will die. But that is not what troubles me. I accept my fate."
"Then what's troubling you?"
"You see, I… I can't think of anyone I would want to kill."
"That is what troubles me."
"So you wanted to legally kill someone once you've built up enough points, mister?"
"That's right. And I'm out of time."
"But if there's no one you want to kill in particular, even with your points, you don't have to kill someone, right?"
"I refuse to let it end this way!"
"Because that would reduce all my life's efforts to nothing!"
"I built up these points because I wanted to kill someone! I desperately struggled so that I would be able to commit murder! I've always looked forward to it! From my childhood, when I was first taught the system, I've dreamt of collecting enough points to get away with murder!"
"I see… I understand what you're saying."
"Traveler… Have you ever taken a life? I'm sure life on the road could not have been so easy."
"Kino's racked up a pretty high kill count. We might not have made it otherwise."
"Then let me ask… Have you ever killed someone--not to protect yourself or another, or for pay--but out of pure enjoyment?"
"Hm… No, never."
"I see. So you could never understand…"
"If it's all right, I'd like to ask. Now that I am finally capable of getting away with murder, who is it that I should kill? There is no one I hate or hold a grudge upon. All I have are loved ones--family, friends, companions--all such good people. I could never take any of their lives. But would that mean I could kill an evil person who repeatedly commits crimes? Such people are very rare, and even if I were to find one, if I was mistaken in my knowledge, I might end up doing something that could never be taken back. But if I waited for the person to be judged in a court, there would be no point in me killing them because they would be judged by the law…"
"Now that you mention it, yeah. I don't think Kino could help you, mister."
"Yes… You're right. At first, I-"
"You came up to me to kill me, right?"
"Yes. That's right. You're truly astounding. When I saw you, I thought, 'Perhaps I could easily kill someone not of this country'. I'm sure you've already noticed the knife I'm hiding in my clothes?"
"And that's why your right hand has been on the revolver at your side all this time, correct?"
"There would be no point in attempting murder if I end up getting myself killed instead. I've just given up. And I am left with my troubles. Traveler, if you were in my shoes, who in this country would you kill?"
"You. After all, you're going to die very soon."
"I cannot accept that answer…"
The sound of the motorrad's engine faded into the distance.
The man sat alone in the open-air cafe and looked up at the clear blue sky with a sigh.
The man paid for his tea and lightly waved at the waiter, who was looking at him with admiration. He began walking away.
He was walking on the sidewalk by a park, heading back to the hospital.
"Oh my goodness! Mr. President!"
The man turned around. A woman in her twenties was standing just outside the park, pushing a baby carriage.
"I'm retired now, ma'am. I'm no longer President." The man said sheepishly. The woman walked up to him with the baby carriage. And just like the waiter from earlier, she looked up at him with admiration.
"Sir, would you mind giving my baby a pat on the head? I want to raise him to be a great man, just like you, Mr. Pre-I mean, sir. Please, give him your blessings."
The man smiled and nodded, slowly getting to his knees and reaching down.
A tiny baby, whose head was not yet full of hair, slept soundly in the carriage.
"Of course… This baby still knows nothing of the world." He whispered, quietly enough that only the child could hear. "Absolutely nothing…"
He slowly reached out to the baby.
A gnarled hand quietly touched the infant's forehead.
The baby's mother looked on, moved to tears by the act. The man quietly spoke to the baby.
"Be happy, child. You must follow your dreams. Please. Never become a failure like me."
Continued in Chapter 10.
Continued in Chapter 10.