My thoughts were slowly becoming much clearer. I haven’t felt this way since the day I was summoned by my Master Attendant. As my eyes began to focus, I realized I was in a spacious room...though ‘spacious’ probably wouldn’t be the right word for it. Even though the room was not furnished, it was packed with Food Souls.
"Huh? Where am I..."
I was just helping my Master Attendant a while ago when, for some unknown reason, I ended up here in the blink of an eye. The scary thing was, I had no idea what had transpired between now and then. It was one of the reasons I was panicking a little, the other being how the other Food Souls were all staring at me.
It was then an innocent-looking Food Soul came to my side, checking me over with what appeared to be much concern. Finally, her expression relaxed and she suddenly threw herself into my arms.
"Uh, have we...met before?"
I asked in a small voice. To my surprise, it ignited a discussion.
"Don't you recognize us?"
"How could that be? Her exhaustion must be getting to her!"
I did not know what they were talking about but based on what I could piece together from their conversations, it seems like we had always been together. Except that was not the case. Unless...this is a dream?
"I… I don’t think I remember you guys too well... What are we doing in this room…?"
"But we’ve always been here?"
The Food Soul looked confused at my question. She tilted her head to the side and thought about it for a while before replying:
"Because the humans said we should be here."
"But… what’s the point of putting so many Food Souls in here?"
"Food Soul? What’s a Food Soul?"
"We... are all Food Souls... Do you guys… not know?"
I was surprised to see everyone shaking their heads. Regardless of whether you’re a human or a Food Soul, everyone should know who they are. But the guys in front of me didn’t look like they were lying.
"Then… then at least you guys should know what kind of Food Soul you are, right? For instance, I’m Rice. What about you?"
That innocent-looking Food Soul remained completely dumbfounded. I glanced at the others. Their reactions were all the same...
"Then... What are your names?"
"My name is No.11!"
A cheerful Food Soul with the appearance of a young boy was the first to answer. Soon after, more and more Food Souls reported their "names":
And that innocent-looking Food Soul replied with her name too, "No.30".
All the Food Souls were named after different numbers, but those weren’t names of Food Souls. And, this strange room had a name too:
II. For Humanity
This room which was packed to the brim with Food Souls was making me feel claustrophobic, but the other Food Souls didn’t seem to think so. To them, it was only natural to live here. Though I had no idea what their Master Attendant is doing, I think it’s wrong to treat them like this.
Despite knowing this, there’s not much I can do for them either. There is a door in this room, but it was locked from the outside. When I called out through the door hoping for someone to respond, the Food Souls were strangely petrified. I was beginning to think that they’d never set foot out of this room before when the door opened from the other side. I immediately stood up and saw a Food Soul limping into the room.
Judging by the look on his face, he was in a lot of pain. The door quickly shut behind him, and he collapsed to the floor. I rushed over and discovered that he had sustained serious injuries.
"We must treat him immediately!"
I wanted to save him but as I was about to ask the Food Souls around me for help, I discovered my hands were giving off a soft glow: Soul Power! I’m supposed to be an empty shell, but I’ve somehow developed Soul Power since arriving here. It appears to be something I should be happy about, but it was not normal.
After successfully healing him, a man’s voice rang out in the room from somewhere.
"Next subject, No.22."
That door opened again. A Food Soul stood up at the call. She waved at us, not looking scared or hesitant at all as she left the room under everyone’s gaze.
"What’s going on outside?"
"Everyone must undergo experimentation for the sake of humanity~"
No.30 smiled as if she was affirming her reply. But what kind of experiment would injure them so badly?
"We do get hurt, but if it’s for humanity, it’s worth it...I’m sure."
It felt as if she was trying to convince herself.
"...But there are exceptions. I heard the humans saying that before we were summoned, there was a bunch of cowards who ran away. I have no idea why they would do that. To help humanity is our purpose!"
Perhaps running away was the right choice...but I didn’t dare say that.
III. Longing For The Future
I wasn’t sure how long I have been locked up here. In this room without windows, I can’t even tell if the sun has set.
The Food Souls were still undergoing experimentation continuously... I could accept the notion that they would inevitably come back from the experiments injured, but recently, the Food Souls who left have never returned. According to No.30, this was the first time something like this had happened since they were summoned, and there was no way of knowing when it would end either.
"Why is this happening... If only Master Attendant was here..."
"You guys don’t know what ‘Master Attendants’ are, do you?"
Everyone was clearly a Food Soul, and yet they didn’t view themselves that way. Naturally, they wouldn’t know anything that was associated with being a Food Soul either. This place is nothing like the restaurant. It feels so foreign...
As time passed, more and more Food Souls left the room. Where there was once chatter all around, the room was now much quieter. A heavy atmosphere started to settle in this "home", but no one felt like speaking up. Perhaps the ones who would have were the ones who ran away.
"Are they not coming back...?"
Watching No.30 as she wished for her friends to come back, I had to do something. It wasn’t realistic to just grab everyone and escape, so the only thing I could do was comfort her.
"Maybe they went out on an adventure?"
"Yes, on an adventure in the outside world. Did you know there is a huge world out there?"
As I started talking about the world that they’ve never known of, the few remaining Food Souls began gathering around. Their eyes were filled with curiosity, and I decided that I would do whatever I could to give them some hope.
"What is...the world like?"
"The world is an endless place! There are tall mountains, blue oceans, green forests...and many, humans and Food Souls...and cities, where we live together."
"Humans...living with us?"
No.30 could hardly believe her ears.
"We have the fortune of living alongside humans?"
"Right now, it might be hard to believe… but it’s true!"
To prove my point, I began to recount the sights I’d seen with my Master Attendant. Whether it was the daily life in the restaurant or the adventures we'd had outside, I spared no details as I told everyone about the memories I treasured.
Little by little, I began to see a longing for the future in everyone’s eyes. Every Food Soul began to prepare themselves for the day they could go on adventures with their own Master Attendant. They all hoped that the day when they could live alongside humans would come a bit sooner.
But these hopeful Food Souls still left the room one after the other, under the command of that man’s chilly voice, until No.30 and I were the only ones left...
IV. All Systems Go
No.30 and I were huddled together in a corner of the room. Across from us was the door that would "swallow" Food Souls. We hadn’t spoken in a long time, as though fearing that once we did, the cold voice would order one of us to go through that door.
No.30 kept a tight grip on my hand. Though she was silent, I knew she was terrified that one of us would leave. But this was unavoidable. To undergo experiments for the sake of humanity was something she had already prepared herself for. And I was afraid that I was about to suffer the same fate too."...Um."
I don’t know how much time had went by before she finally broke the silence.
"Is there...really a world outside?"
I had seen it with my own eyes, so I couldn’t be lying.
"Yeah, I believe you...I was just wondering; even though we’ve never left here, it feels like you had really gone to the outside world... I envy the life you had with your Master Attendant...I wonder if I’ll be able to be with my own Master Attendant someday..."
"It’s about time. No.30, it’s your turn."
The door opened. In the end, the moment has still arrived...!
I felt as if a blow had been dealt to my heart. I glanced at No.30—she was about to leave me too!
"...Then...I’ll be going then."
She stood up and took a step forward, but stopped--because I was still keeping a tight grip on her hand. And even as she looked back at me in surprise, she didn’t try to break free. In those eyes were longing and hope.
"...No.30, let's run away!"
She was finally no longer able to hold her sorrow back and lunged herself into my arms.
"People who hurt Food Souls are definitely bad news!" was something Master Attendant always said. And as Master Attendant’s Food Soul, I must protect them from harm!
"I’ll take you to Parisel. My Master Attendant is there. We just need to escape..."
As if we had finally broken free from our heavy shackles, we were discussing what we’d do with our new-found freedom in the future when a few humans suddenly walked in through that door.
"...Who are you?!"
The man at the front was dressed in white and wore a gold monocle. He looked kind, but when our eyes met, I felt fear strike in my heart.
"...Take her away."
In a calm yet terrifying tone of voice, he sealed No.30’s fate. I wanted to stop his two henchmen from taking No.30 away, but I realized my hands and feet wouldn’t listen to me anymore.
"No! Let me go! Let me go!"
No.30 cried as she struggled, reaching out to me in despair. But it wasn’t enough to call forth any sense of empathy in them. As she was being dragged away, right before the door shut, No.30 used the last of her strength to shout--
Big… Big sister?!
"I was really hoping you bunch would stop acting as if you’re family."
That man was disappointed at No.30’s calls, but he kept his smile on.
"What’s going on… who are you… what kind of place is this…?!"
Since my hands and feet wouldn’t obey my commands, the only thing I could do was question him with everything I had left. But he dodged my questions and continued with his little speech.
"I hope you can understand that in imposing restrictions on your relationships with each other, the experiments will be able to progress more smoothly. Only if you devote your all to completing these tasks will humans have a future. Or else, you’re going to go down the same road as that guy who ran away."
"...That guy who ran away?"
"But that doesn’t matter. At this stage of the experiment, the preparations are already complete. As the main subject, it’s what you’re going to do next that’s the real deal.
Let’s begin with the experiment then——No.2. "
"Mithra, scientific explanations are a bit too complicated for me. Can you give me a summary?"
"So, a Food Soul’s form can imitate human biology, but all they’re doing is storing a permanent save of their memories. Which is to say, even if they’ve forgotten something from the past, the memory can still be triggered under certain conditions...get it now?"
"Oh... Ohhh! So it’s like pouring salt into a jar of sugar, where if you use a spoon that was long enough, you can taste both sweetness and saltiness?"
"What the hell?"
The girl by the name of Mithra gave a scornful look at the Master Attendant, who was not very knowledgeable in the field of science.
"Who cares if I get it or not? The point is, if Rice here runs into a situation like that someday, then it’ll be because of what you described. Isn’t that right, Rice?"
"Rice seems to really be getting into this idea you blindly came up with."
"Well, if it’s Rice we’re talking about... But what just happened? You didn’t zone out, did you?"
"...Master Attendant...I, I’m not too sure either...I think I remembered something..."
"Huh!? Did you remember your past!?"
Hearing Rice’s answer, Mithra seemed to be more interested than the Master Attendant.
"So, what did you remember?"
Faced with two curious humans, Rice thought for a while before finally shaking her head.
"I don't remember much… I just don’t feel too happy right now...sorry..."
"Hm... Perhaps it's something in her memories that's affecting her mood?"
"Is that so? But there’s no need to be afraid. No matter what happens, as long as I’m here, I won’t let anything happen to you!"