“It’s not my fault if you don’t like what you find,” Sōgen wheezed from his chair. “I told you not to contact me in person.”

“Well, what else was I supposed to do?” I snapped. “You’re the only person who has the data I need, and I’m being tracked online.”

“I let you in, didn’t I?” said Sōgen, throwing his pale and tubby arms wide. “You’re the first person who’s been in here aside from me in 15 years. Don’t abuse my hospitality.”

I glanced out the half-drawn shade at the vast empty streets and apartment buildings below, each with only a few dozen tenants thanks to Japan’s decades-old and increasing sub-replacement fertility. “How do you manage that?” I asked. “Surely you must have a job, and need to go out for food.”

“I have food delivered and trash collected,” replied Sōgen. “People practically beg for my business so they can keep their credit, since their companies were founded in the 1960s when the country hadn’t lost 50 million people to geezerhood without descendents.”

I looked at the massive bank of computer equipment that filled 90% of the apartment, and the disarrayed twin-size mattress parked under the window.

“Well, I can see that’s not enough for you,” Sōgen said. “You’re wondering how I pay for the electric bill and everything else despite no job and making a career out of giving away things online for free.”

“More or less.”

“If you’re sure you want to know, the answer is in the bedroom,” said Sōgen. “But if I hear one word of judgement or complaint from you, I’ll erase that data and make you watch before throwing you out on your ass.”

Another odd look from me.

“Information wants to be free. That’s the creed I live by, and I’m too fat and lazy to try and stop you. But freeing information means living with its consequences. I practice what I preach.”

There was no letting the thing go, not after a speech like that. I approached the bedroom door, its knob coated with dust, and opened it. Second later, I slammed it shut and stumbled backwards, retching. “What the hell?” I cried. “Are those…?”

“Yes, of course they are,” Sōgen said dismissively. “There are no jobs for someone like me in this country anymore, so I lived off my grandfather’s pension, and my parents’. When they fell ill…well, they had always talked about becoming Sokushinbutsu, suicide monks, practicing holy self-mummification. So I let them do it.”

“You mean you…you locked them up in there when they were dying?”

“I cared for them in their final illness like any dutiful son would,” snapped Sōgen. “And I have let their pension checks keep coming in to pay the bills. Don’t think I’m the only one who’s done this, either. The government can’t handle the record keeping of a nation of geezers, and they’re 50% of the electorate so tampering with benefits is a good way to exit the Diet in a hurry. Grandpa will be 123 this January, and nobody cares. My friend down the block has a 215-year-old still collection a pension.”

Struggling to avoid laying into the disgusting blob in front of me for his vile rationalizations, I instead found myself retching.

“Toilet’s down the hall,” Sōgen said drily, turning back toward his monitors. “We’ll talk after you’ve composed yourself.”

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