Wakamatsu: "I see..."
The principal's laconic comment kills the conversation and it is followed by an awkward silence. It can't be said that we are particularly welcomed in her office, but at least I do not sense from her the same hostility that Nagaoka displays. I am glad that today he was busy doing his job, for once. It is sort of funny to tease him, but his constant nagging has become unbearably obnoxious at this point. It isn't really pleasant to have that man around when I am not in the mood for bickering.
Satsukawa pretty much summarized all that emerged from Hibari's interrogation, the fact that she was the first person who discovered Gotsuji's corpse, the fact that she tampered with the crime scene, the fact that she is deeply involved in Teramoto's sham and so on. Wakamatsu listened attentively to the whole report, only occasionally interrupting the flow with clarifying questions.
Normally I wouldn't see the need to waste my time this way, and I would have rather asked Satsukawa to make someone else do this, but for my plan to work, it is required that the principal will not interfere, and I need to persuade her of this necessity. Explaining the situation concerning Hibari was just the first step, now comes the difficult part. I must try to regain Wakamatsu's trust, and I must make her realize that she will not free her school from the plague that is afflicting it through conventional methods.
Right now she is pondering on what actions to take to discipline Hibari. Whatever she is thinking, I must try to convince her to delay any decisions for at least two days. But that will come for last.
Satsukawa: "So, in the end, I think we can safely assume that Kagami Hibari isn't directly involved with the murder of Hitomi Gotsuji. There are still suspicions on her, especially because of her ties with Maaya Teramoto, but at the light of what was uncovered, she's no longer a prime suspect."
Wakamatsu: "Knowing that a student of this school was cleared from suspicions is a relief, and I can only welcome this news. However, that still doesn't change the fact that a murder was perpetrated."
Erika: "In other words, that a student of this school will be found guilty of murder is practically inevitable. The chances that the culprit is someone from outside are extremely low."
Wakamatsu: "That's not quite what I meant to say..."
Erika: "There's absolutely no need to worry then, the culprit will be found, it's only a matter of time."
Satsukawa: "We're steadily getting closer to the truth. What happened with Hibari shouldn't be seen as a failure but as an improvement."
Erika: "I'm not a fan of trial and error methods, but it's undeniable that every time you learn that a previously accepted theory is wrong, the number of possibilities lowers."
Wakamatsu: "That kind of reasoning is irresponsible. If you really don't like trial and error methods then refrain from publicly denounce an innocent in the future."
Erika: "Oh, is that what you think? There's clearly a misunderstanding here."
Wakamatsu: "What do you mean?"
Erika: "You're assuming that I seriously thought that Hibari was the culprit. That never crossed my mind."
Wakamatsu: "Are you denying what the whole school heard you saying?"
Satsukawa: "Wakamatsu-san, what Erika did was certainly irresponsible, and she should've really chosen better words. However her objective wasn't wrong, she knew that she had to avert the worst case scenario, and she took a drastic measure to prevent it."
Wakamatsu: "Wasn't her objective to catch what she erroneously believed to be the murderer?"
Erika: "Wrong. This is exactly the misunderstanding I was talking about earlier. Even if I didn't think she was the culprit, her own actions made her a prime suspect, whether I wanted it or not. At that point the damage was already done, and the only thing that I could do was to prevent it from escalating further."
Satsukawa: "Hibari was trying to escape the law, on the false assumption that she was framed. If she became a fugitive, it would've been a lot harder to prove her innocence. In addition there's no telling of what could've happened to her. A girl of her age, desperate and alone, could've turned to crime or worse."
Erika: "Then, as you can see, I merely decided to use the best possible tactic at my disposal in order to avoid all of that. Telling that she was a prime suspect was simply the best way for me to gain the highest possible attention. After that, no matter where Hibari decided to go, students would scream as soon as they saw her, thus alerting us of her position."
Wakamatsu shakes her head as if to free her mind from a bothersome thought. She is clearly still dubious about the necessity of my actions, but the fact that she is thinking about it, is already an improvement.
Satsukawa: "There's more to this story. I'm kind of ashamed to say this, but after Hibari was apprehended, my colleagues were pretty certain that she was guilty. It wasn't decided whether she was the culprit or just an accomplice, but either way she was pressured to talk. Erika played an important role in making us understand that we needed to rethink our conclusions. She convinced Hibari to tell us the whole truth. At that point her testimony became more credible and all of her suspicious actions were explained."
Wakamatsu: "I see... So there's actually some worth in having this person participating in the investigations..."
Good. This is proceeding even more smoothly than what I expected.
Erika: "I don't blame you for having doubts about me, or for thinking I could only cause damage. That's what anyone would believe in your position. I don't expect people to simply trust in my abilities without any proofs. But this is absolutely not a problem for me, because I know that in the end my worth will be proven without fail, and that's all that matters."
Wakamatsu: "Given the circumstances, I'll overlook what you did yesterday. Even so, I won't tolerate further commotions, especially if not justified. You'd better not take my threat lightly, I don't care if you're with the MPD. I'll send the press after you, if you put another of my students in danger."
Scary. The last thing the police wants is bad publicity. It is already hard as it is to convince the masses that they are on their side and not against them. This threat must have had quite an effect on Satsukawa. Not so much on me, though.
Erika: "You have my word that I'll never cause that much trouble again, unless I'll deem it absolutely necessary."
It seems that my answer was satisfactory enough for the principal. She doesn't realize that what I deem necessary is quite different from what she does. The important thing, for now, is to convince her that I am a rational person capable of understanding her position and her situation. She must believe that despite my quirks I am the right person to solve problems in the most efficient way.
Erika: "Wakamatsu-san, regarding Kagami Hibari, what do you intend to do?"
Wakamatsu: "I want to consult her teachers before taking a definitive decision, but she's most likely going to receive the same punishment that we've already decided for the occultism club members."
Erika: "Same as Teramoto's punishment?"
Wakamatsu: "No, it's been decided that Teramoto will be suspended for a whole month. In that time we hope to dismantle permanently the network of accomplices that she established, and to release from her spell as many students as possible. The occultism club will be permanently disbanded, and as soon as the police will permit it, the old PE shed will be razed to the ground."
What a pointless overkill. But in a way that is not a wrong decision, given the circumstances. Teramoto's punishment is quite harsh, but she should still manage to graduate, there is a whole year ahead. Considering the gravity of this whole affair, she can consider herself lucky that they didn't decide to expel her. As for her faithful followers, Wakamatsu is being way too optimistic. A month isn't nearly enough, and her closest accomplices will most definitely keep everything under control until their leader's return. It doesn't matter what the teachers say or do, a belief is not something that can be easily removed. Repressive methods will not work, if anything they will make the cult even stronger. In the end if you believe in something, it won't be force nor an authority telling that you are wrong that will make you change your mind. To completely erase a belief, you need to prove that it is wrong, but sometimes not even that works, and sometimes it is simply impossible.
The principal is showing all of her determination in proceeding with the plan that she deems the best. A verdict was pronounced, a judgment has been settled, her eyes are telling me that the decision is irrevocable. If I challenged her directly at this point, I would only cause her to turtle up and strengthen her defenses. Instead I decide to take the opposite approach. I tilt my head slightly and smile wryly, averting my eyes as if I was trying to gather my thoughts.
Erika: "A belief... is really not different from a virus, isn't it?"
Wakamatsu frowns, showing her distrust in front of this apparently nonsensical change of topic. She must have already sensed that I am trying persuade her about something, and she is refraining from carelessly answer to my question.
Erika: "A virus is an organism that can barely be defined as life form. It's little more than a vessel for data. The only purpose of a virus is to replicate itself and its own data by hijacking the reproductive structures of the host cell it infects. In other words viruses are parasites, they can't do anything by themselves. Once a cell is infected, its own nature is changed and it begins to work for the sake of the virus, creating many copies of it and spreading them. The viruses thus created infect other cells and the cycle repeats. With this system the more are the infected subjects, the more the diffusion of the virus increases, rapidly escalating and exponentially growing. Viruses sure are terrifying, aren't they?
As for beliefs, they are basically concepts. Whether it's through spoken words or written texts, concepts require a medium in order to be transferred from a person to another, however it's only in the mind of a human that a concept can truly exist. Once a belief roots itself in the mind a human, that very human mind is changed. Not only the individual starts acting according to the precepts dictated by the belief, it also strives to replicate the belief in as many other human minds as possible. So it isn't wrong to state that a belief uses humans to replicate itself, and the more are the humans that are affected by it, the faster and more powerfully it spreads. Beliefs are truly terrifying, aren't they?
When you think about them on these terms, they aren't really that different from viruses. And if you still refuse to accept the comparison because viruses are tangible beings, then think about computer viruses instead."
Wakamatsu: "A pretty cynic perspective, but what exactly are you trying to prove?"
Erika: "Unfortunately, there aren't really many effective methods to fight viruses. Strengthening people's natural defenses is still the best that modern medicine can do to prevent their diffusion. This is usually done through vaccines. The battle against beliefs isn't much different. It's a lot easier to prepare a person to refute them, than to eradicate them from those who have already been converted. I'm sure you understand what I mean."
Wakamatsu: "You're equating serious religious precepts to a bunch of poorly conceived school legends. I refuse to believe that they're that much rooted in the students' minds."
Erika: "I suggest you don't underestimate this problem. You wouldn't have believed that these poorly conceived school legends could work at all to begin with, and yet they're already out of control."
The principal takes a deep breath, for a few seconds she ponders my words. It is indeed hard to believe that the story Teramoto told us could be taken seriously by so many people, but in the end school legends aren't really any more plausible, and yet it is said that there is at least one in every single school of Japan. If students can believe in such silly stories without any kind of proof to back them, then what if proofs were presented? And there is another important factor to consider; humans tend to be heavily influenced by their environment. For example, there is a very interesting experiment that was once conducted. Several subjects were shown many different colors ranging from blue to green, and they were asked to classify them into either end of the spectrum. But the true purpose of the experiment was different from what they were told. They were made to participate alongside a group of people, rather than individually, under the false pretense that the others were subjects just like them. In reality they were all actors acting under the directives of the researchers. At specific points, as part of the experiment, all the fake participants unanimously would claim that a clear green or a clear blue were the opposite color. Most subjects decided to comply with what the group stated in spite of what they were clearly seeing.
This phenomenon is commonly known as "groupthink", and Teramoto exploited it to achieve an even more persuasive power. Large groups of people were preferred, with the club members being enough to impress the weaker individuals, which would then add up to the number impressing even more people and so on in a domino effect.
Wakamatsu: "Then... what do you suggest?"
At last, the question I was waiting for.
Erika: "Repressive methods won't work. Simply telling them that Teramoto lied won't work. No matter how much you insist, words are just words, they can't beat facts."
Erika: "Of course that's not real facts, but Teramoto managed to create that illusion. Even if that was nothing but a sham, she still managed to prove that demons exist in her followers' eyes. And now, how do you intend to prove that demons don't exist?"
Wakamatsu: "That's ridiculous! There's no need to prove such thing! Demons don't exist!"
Erika: "Demons don't exist, because demons don't exist? You won't go far with that logic."
Maybe I went a bit too far, the principal is showing signs of irritation.
Wakamatsu: "Then what?!"
Erika: "We need to destroy their beliefs from inside. We need to destroy their very foundation. I propose to fight the virus with another virus; an anti-belief that will spread through the students and destroy all traces of Teramoto's credibility."
Satsukawa: "Wait a moment, Erika, we never talked about this..."
Erika: "Ah, Satsukawa-san, I know what you're thinking: 'this has nothing to do with the murder case', 'this doesn't concern us'. Am I right?"
Satsukawa: "Well, of course, there's also that..."
Erika: "It does concern us. Remember what happened with Kagami Hibari. She only started to talk after I revealed the secret she was trying to protect. Teramoto is no different. As long as her illusions will stand, she won't tell us the truth. However, if I destroy her world, she won't have any more defenses, and she'll meekly answer all of our questions. This is a necessary step in order to solve this case."
Wakamatsu: "I'm not sure I understand what exactly you have in mind, but just because Teramoto is a troublesome child up to no good, it doesn't mean it's fine to mistreat her or to inflict unjustified harm and distress on her."
Erika: "Please, be at ease, I don't plan to hurt anything but her pride. I'm sure you recognize that her arrogance is a major problem, and so far all of your attempts have failed to produce any results. I think that it's in her best interest to learn a bit of humility... and I have exactly what it takes to teach her that."
For a moment I see a glimpse of hope on Wakamatsu's face, a part of her that wants to trust me, but it is just an instant. She quickly shakes her head with decision.
Wakamatsu: "This sounds very wrong. Even if your intentions are righteous, I cannot entrust you with such task. You're here to find a criminal, not to correct the students' behaviors."
And it seemed it was going so well... I guess it couldn't be that easy after all.
Erika: "I understand your point of view, but you should try to understand mine. As I've already explained to Satsukawa, it's vital for me to learn everything that Teramoto knows, and there's only one way to obtain that. Coincidentally that'd also solve your problems, and that's why I only ask for a bit of your cooperation."
Wakamatsu: "And I simply cannot do that. As the principal of the Mitsugi Institute, I cannot support whatever inconsiderate plan you have in mind!"
This is getting pretty annoying. I didn't think this woman could be this stubborn!
Calm down, I need to calm down. If I snap now, I will ruin it all. I need to understand why she is opposing me, and I need to figure out which is her weak spot. She said that she cannot do what I ask. Why? She said that she cannot do that as the principal of the Mitsugi institute. So it isn't something about her, but about her role. Her role is a role of responsibility. She called my plan 'inconsiderate', in other words this is where the conflict lies. The responsible principal of the Mitsugi institute cannot possibly endorse an irresponsible plan. I see, then I must reshape my strategy in a way that will not cause any more conflicts.
Next, what is her weak point? That must still be her role. Her role is a role of responsibility. As the principal of the Mitsugi institute she is supposed to resolve any kind of problem. If she cannot do that, people will think she isn't competent enough for the task.
Good, this is perfect!
Erika: "Wakamatsu-san, I think I didn't properly consider your position, so allow me to apologize for my inopportune request. As you've just said, you can't possibly give me your open support."
Wakamatsu: "Then I believe we don't have anything else to discuss."
Erika: "If you have confidence that everything will fix itself, then this is all."
I pretend to be ready to leave, a calculated risk. Even if she doesn't stop me, I can still turn around before opening the door and claim that I remembered something important.
Wakamatsu: "Wait a moment..."
Wakamatsu: "What did you mean with those parting words?"
Erika: "I think I've explained the problem clearly enough. This is a desperate situation, and desperate situations call for desperate measures, which unfortunately you cannot take. Anyway, once Teramoto graduates I expect her cult to slowly fade and finally disappear. That might take from five to ten years at max."
Wakamatsu: "Ten years!"
Her horrified expression is simply sublime.
Erika: "Well... maybe it's a bit pessimistic, let's say eight years, if nothing goes terribly wrong."
Naturally ten years or eight years do not make much difference for Wakamatsu.
Erika: "But as I've implied before, maybe things will be fixed without you doing anything."
Wakamatsu: "What do you mean?"
Erika: "Well... I understand your position, you understand mine. Did I ever say that I'll give up on my plan?"
Satsukawa: "Hey, Erika..."
Wakamatsu: "In other words you plan on teaching some humility on Teramoto whether I agree or not?"
Wakamatsu: "I definitely cannot approve that."
Erika: "Duly noted, I'll face the consequences like usual, you'll yell at me and threat Satsukawa to file another complaint. Meanwhile all of Teramoto's illusions will be dispelled one by one, and in a few months everyone will completely forget that there was a time when people believed in demons and spirits."
Wakamatsu opens her mouth, shocked, but at the same time intrigued. She evaluates my words with meticulous care.
Wakamatsu: "Hypothetically speaking... if I had accepted your proposal... what would you have asked?"
This time it worked, I cannot repress a mischievous grin.
Erika: "The ideal condition for my plan to work, requires that Teramoto will be left free to act as she always did... until I destroy her..."
Wakamatsu: "I see... Is that all?"
Erika: "Nothing else."
Wakamatsu: "I'll probably need to reconsider the disciplinary actions to take against Teramoto on the light of what emerged from Hibari's confession. At this point the final decision will probably be postponed until the next week."
Erika: "That seems sensible."
Wakamatsu: "I must once again urge you to not cause any more problems."
Erika: "Yes, you must. It was a pleasant conversation, Wakamatsu-san."
Wakamatsu: "I'll eagerly awaits for news about your progresses."