Riding the elevator, we were led to a lab on the second floor. Next to the lab door was a touch panel displaying the weather, and Samantha began imputing what looked to be an identification number into it. The door’s red light changed to green, and with a sound, it slid open.
Perhaps the building’ heating system was operational, as the place was filled with a lukewarm air, but a pleasantly cool current leaked out of Chief Researcher Samantha’s laboratory, making me shake for a moment.
“Ah, sorry. My lab is set a little colder than other peoples’”
“I-is that so?”
“Yes, because I’m… for now, come in.”
… Say the rest. You’ve made me curious.
Once we reached the second floor, perhaps she was no longer of others’ eyes, as I could hear Jessica following behind with her quick feet as she entered the lab without any particular questions.
“Ah, it’s true, it’s kinda cool. But strangely enough, it isn’t cold.”
“There are a few dangerous chemicals left around here. I don’t want to raise the temperature by much.”
… Does she have any explosives around?
A step into the lab, and I could somewhat grasp the reason. The interior was as lab-like as you’d expect, with wires and cords running orderly along the floor, conneting to all sorts of expensive-looking equipment.
The machines flashed red and green lights, and above one was a beaker full of liquid of peculiar color.
There were a few desks in the lab, but all of them had experimental tools placed on them, and finding space to walk around was a bit of a trial.
Looking in the back of the lab, there was a sofa just about big enough for one person to sleep. A pink blanket was crumbled in a corner of it. I’m sure that’s where this skeleton-like woman slept.
“You can take a seat.”
Regardless of her unhealthy body, Samantha proceeded into the depths of the lab with light feet. Looking closely, there was a slight space between the cords extending left and right, and if you tread through them, you’d be able to make your way around well enough.
… It was hard to walk.
As I was put hard to the task, Jessica skipped around the gaps to the lab’s inside, eventually finding a pipe chair, and taking a seat.
“Wow. Um, Professor…”
“Samantha is fine.”
Samantha carried a beaker over to a machine two meters high distilling a black substance. She placed the beaker on it and pushed a red button. From a transparent tube, the black liquid started to glug out, and fill the insides of the beaker.
Samantha said it as if it were natural. “Young lady, do you want coffee?”
“U-um, I, well, I’m not good with bitter, so coffee’s a bit…”
“Oh, then would you prefer cocoa?”
“Yes! I won’t drink it if it ain’t cocoa.”
There, Samantha produced a new beaker from her equipment, and placed it on the machine. She pressed a different from before
The transparent tube expelled something again. This time, a distinctly sweet scent drifted over.
As Samantha rudely pushing out the beaker, Jessica gave a confused voice.
“… Oh really?”
I could see her hair twitch.
“You like sweet things right?”
“What’s wrong? If you don’t drink it quickly, it will get cold.”
It was a husky voice without any ambition, and yet she had a strangely pressuring manner. In the end, losing to the pressure that demanded a yes, Jessica took the beaker. “Thank you.”
“Would the lawyer prefer coffee?”
“No, I’m not thirsty, so don’t mind me.”
When I said that, Jessica made some sorrowful eyes at me, but I pretended not to notice.
“I see. How unfortunate.”
Now can we really say it was? And is what you pour into these beakers really coffee? For now, I’m pretty sure the right answer is not to drink.
I witnessed Jessica grow desperate and press the beaker to her mouth. The next moment, she yelled, “Ick!” and spat it out, so I was even more convinced.
Without paying Jessica the slightest heed, Samantha approached a white machine, and operated something with one hand.
“An oxygen concentrator. When the carbon dioxide level in the air gets too high, I faint, so I’ve always got to keep the concentration low.”
“T-that must be rough.”
“Yeah, I think I already told you.”
Jessica spoke as she wiped her mouth with a handkerchief, “An unhealthy dependence on oxygen?”
“… You think there’s anyone out there who isn’t dependent on oxygen?”
For now, I tried retorting, but I did feel Jessica’s expression had hit near the mark.
“I’ve always been frail. Walking outside was a hassle.”
She slowly put the beaker to her mouth, and sipped the coffee. As her expression didn’t really change along the way, it seems the coffee wasn’t particularly bad.
… Though its appearance was off.
Perhaps she was an oddball. Was she really okay like this? Perhaps sensing my anxiety, or purely by chance, “I’m frail, so I decided to do my research properly,” she said.
“I have an inborn shut-in nature. It’s troublesome to go outside, and I hate moving my body. So while I was looking for a job where I didn’t have to go out, I found myself here.”
“Hmm, then it’s your life’s calling.”
Jessica said it with a carefree expression, but I have to say… she was being sarcastic.
But it didn’t seem Samantha herself had noticed as she replied, “It is.”
“By the way, are there any other researchers here?”
She continued on in an extremely painstaking tone. How should I put it, perhaps any line longer than a line of notebook paper was as labor-intensive as a full marathon for this person.
“There are two other chief researchers. And a deputy chief, so there are four in all.”
“Eh? But I saw a lot more outside.”
“They’re still technicians. Something like apprentices. The plan is to make splendid researchers out of them.”
… I do hope that works out. It’ll make it easier for me, or so Samantha said something I couldn’t tell was a wish or a goal.
“When the facility’s so large, don’t you think that’s a little insufficient?”
“There’s no helping it. In the first place, the magic theory lab itself is a research institution that’s only just been set up. I myself am working out of my major.”
“Eh? Then what were you doing before?”
“Psychology. But even if I say that, I don’t mean the mentality of humans. I was researching the different psyche of magicians and witches and demi-humans galore.”
… So that’s why I’m knowledgeable. About magic. She added on, as if she saw her current job as a sort of extra.
When I wondered if this person was alright, Samantha suddenly began talking about Claudia.
“I’m the one who analyzed your defendant. So besides the appraisal, I think I can be of some more help.”
Her purple lips touched the beaker. Once she had drained it to last drop, “But for now, let’s start the appraisal,” she declared.