This is a short preview of Ninth Step Station. To start reading the serial for free, go to Episode 1, where you'll be able to listen to or read the entirety of the first episode. Click here to purchase the bundled audio and text of the whole serial.
The streets were rain-slicked and icy, but in Marunouchi, safely in the US zone of Tokyo, that was no deterrent. In the dark after-work hours, its tiny bars, ramen counters, karaoke boxes, and hostess spots were crammed with salarymen spending an extra few hours laughing at their superiors’ jokes or drinking off the stress of their jobs. A few spilled into the chilly streets, arguing drunkenly under one of the streetlights that still illuminated or checking for updates on their sleeves. Garish signs gleamed from every building, one over the other in tapestries of contrasting calligraphy. There were pockets of darkness, victims of the spike in energy prices or the drop in population. But on the whole, calamity and war increased the market for oblivion-tinged entertainment.
Even the bounty of the US zone was not endless. The metro—those lines that still ran in this divided city—closed at midnight and gasoline shortages had made taxis almost extinct, cutting short a ritual that, pre-war, would have gone on into the early hours of the morning. From eleven thirty until midnight, men and the occasional severely suited woman poured out of the cramped establishments. They flooded roads, bought last-minute snacks, pushed intentionally or unintentionally against each other like molecules in boiling water. They filtered in unsteady gushes under the archway announcing the west entrance of the shopping district, cracked in the 2031 Nankai earthquake and still unrestored a year and a half later. They stumbled across the street to the Kanda metro station, where the late-night rush hour bottlenecked into a tightly packed fumble toward the turnstiles.
Easy, in that crowd of black suits and narrow ties, to feel anonymous. Easy, once one had noticed the target slurping cheap ramen at a street-level establishment, to hover outside until he left. Not terribly difficult to keep him in sight through the crowd. All too easy, in the dense crush of the metro station, to unsheathe a knife close to the hip, where it would be invisible to the security cameras. Easy to jab it once, twice, three times into a dark raincoat-clad back.
The stabbed man stumbled, was held up briefly by the press of the crowd, then slipped down to his hands and knees. There was a moment of disturbance in the flow as people stepped around his huddled form; then he slid completely to the ground. The energy-saving lights were dim; the people were drunk; the last train was leaving soon. No one noticed that they were stepping on a corpse.
Miyako Koreda tapped her sleeve against the panel by the door of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department headquarters in Kudanshita, clocking in. After the old headquarters in Kasumigaseki were bombed in the final days of China’s brief, partially successful attempt to add the capital to its territory, this office building off Yasukuni Dori had been pressed into service as a temporary headquarters. It was a good location, hard up against the narrowest stretch of the ASEAN buffer zone, with good transportation options to most of the American-administered eastern half of the capital, and close to the Yasukuni Shrine, which everyone expected to be a flash point one day or the next. But although someone had been thoughtful about which interior walls to knock down, Miyako still expected the old office every time she walked through the door, and the layout felt odd.
“Ohayo gozaimasu,” Miyako called into the scattered desks of the fourth-floor Criminal Investigations Bureau.
“Ohayo!” the greetings chorused back.
“Ohayo, Koreda-san,” said a heavyset man in his fifties, passing the door on his way back to the desks.
“Yamada-san,” Miyako replied, following him in. “What are you working on?”
“The Shiodome arson case,” he answered. “You?”
“Paperwork for that theft in Odaiba.”
Miyako nodded. “Looks like we might be able to pin a few other thefts on him too.”
Miyako slung her dark wool coat onto the hook by her desk and went to the tea station. The leaves in the pot were soggy, and she dumped them into the sink, rinsed the strainer, and sifted in a new, fragrant layer from the tin. While she waited for the water to heat, Miyako browsed the snack offerings in lieu of breakfast. She selected a small sweet-potato-stuffed cake—rare now that Kyushu was held by China; she wondered who had bought that—and a handful of sour plum–flavored hard candies. In her right ear, the news broadcast burbled its comforting hum.
She sat down at her desk, lukewarm cup in hand, and started to fill in the paperwork on the Odaiba...