He sat on the toilet seat with his pants up. He held his phone up to his ear.

I swear, Conan thought. If he doesn't call me back, when he's the reason that I had to get up and leave in the first place...

"Yes?"

"Don't 'Yes' me," Conan said. "You know this is the middle of school period for me."

"Ah, well, sorry," Rei Furuya, AKA Bourbon, retorted. "You reliving your childhood is obviously more important than the latest big development within the Organization. I guess I'll just han..."

"WAIT A FRIGGIN' SECOND!" Conan said. "What is it? What's the big development?"

"There's a rumor circulating among the Men in Black," Rei said. "One of their agents has been activated onto the field."

"Speak Japanese."

(Author's Note: Haha, I guess that's like Conan's equivalent to "Speak English", whenever the person who's speaking isn't making sense)

"One of their agents has been assigned to a high-profile, top-secret mission."

"And this agent would be...?"

"Mezcal."

Mezcal, Conan repeated nonverbally. He had heard that name uttered before. "Who is he again?"

"Supposedly he's the guy who took over the development of the apotoxin project after Sherry's defection. But here's the catch: nobody knows what he looks like."

"Huuh?"

"It's like Rum all over again," Rei said. "The combined intelligence gathering of the White Organization has yet to unveil this guy's identity. And now he's on the loose, no longer confined to working behind the desk of some laboratory somewhere."

"So you've got no idea what he's after?" Conan asked.

"Well, I've officially got no leads," Rei said. "I even asked Yoko and she wouldn't tell me mum."

"Officially? So that means there's an unofficially," Conan said.

"It's more of a hunch than anything else."

"I'd like to hear your hunch."

Rei sighed. "Supposedly, this development within the Organization began two days after you and your friends discovered the buried cash from that criminal group."

"The Southpaw Case," Conan said. "If I do recall, a group photo of me and my friends was on the front page of newspapers circulating all over town."

He did a facepalm. "Haibara and Shiro were also in that picture."

"And that's my theory," Rei said. "He's after them. One, or both."

"No, they aren't after Haibara," Conan said. "Yoko's gotten a good look at her plenty of times. And I think their last run-in confirmed to Yoko that Haibara's just an ordinary girl."

"Then they're after their man," Rei said. "The one you told them you had killed."

"So we're gonna have to debunk their suspicions," Conan said. "But first things first, it's imperative that we locate Mezcal, so that we can bring Their investigation of the matter under our control."

"I couldn't agree more."

"So what do we know about Mezcal, besides what you've already told me?"

"Nothing," Rei said. "But if he's involved in pharmaceutical research and development, and especially in that pertaining to such a complex project as the apotoxin, then it's a fair bet the man has a background in biology or chemistry, or both. Such a person has got to be brilliant, or at least notably above average intelligence."

"Ehh? So it's a man, then?"

"We don't know that much, even," Rei said. "But, you know, there is one thing that troubles me."

"Yeah? And what's that?"

"You're the guy they're supposed to turn to for these kinds of investigations of persons, right?" Rei said.

He has a point, Conan thought, dismayed. They kept me out of the loop. Does that mean they don't trust me?

"I suspect things are about to get really bad," Rei said. "As though this is just the calm before the storm. Don't ask me how I know that, I've just got this ominous feeling. Well, that's all I wanted to tell you. Stay sharp, kid. And whatever you do, keep your eyes peeled for suspicious characters."

Conan nodded. "You too, Bourbon. May good fortune be still on our side looking forward."

With that, he hung up.

Opening

(Cup of Trembling by B'z)

(Each fresh breath of life is a fresh chance to start anew! Spaces previously thought safe are now penetrated by the forces of darkness! Teitan Elementary has a new teacher, but can he be trusted? Perceiving the one and only truth! With the body of a child but the mind of an adult, my name is...DETECTIVE CONAN!)

Above all, I'm afraid of you seeing me like this

The youthful vigor sapped from my bones

Too afraid to proceed, too afraid to turn back

A wretch, recoiling from my own shadow

Wallowing in self-pity like a pig wallowing in its crap

I can't check my phone, lest you might try to call

I can't live at home, lest you might try to visit

All I have left is the clothes on my back and

That dreaded bottle, whose contents I dare not drink

Oh I'm going nowhere, a pinwheel spinning in circles

This Cup of Trembling I now raise to my lips and swallow

So I may face the demons haunting my restless nights

I can't show my face to you until I can call myself a man

Until I've walked a full moon carrying my cross

The Man From the Society! Part One!

The six of them (Conan, Nancy, Mitsuhiko, Ayumi, Genta, and Shiro) stretched in preparation for PE Class to begin. They were outside, on the track field.

"Hey, Conan," Mitsuhiko said. "Did something happen to Haibara-san?"

"She's been absent from school a lot this past year," Ayumi said. "Is she in the hospital again?"

"Not this time, Ayumi-chan," Conan said with a grin. "Haibara's taking a sabbatical for the next week and a half."

"A what?" Genta said.

In this instance, Conan could tell the three of them were totally confused.

"A sabbatical is a periodic break," Nancy said. "Ai-chan's taking a break from school to be with her family."

"Haibara-san has a family?" Genta said.

"Yes, Genta, she wasn't lowered from the sky by a white stork," Conan said.

"Uh, no, I think what he means is...didn't Haibara-san tell us before that her parents died in a fire?" Mitsuhiko asked.

"Yeah, but that turned out to be not exactly true," Conan said. "It's complicated, but she didn't find this out until a few months ago."

"Hmm, a fire, you say?" Shiro interjected suspiciously. "What an interesting way to go out...or to fake one's own death. You wouldn't suppose that Haibara-san's parents are scientists?"

"Actually, yes," Conan said. "She did say they were researchers on some big science project."

"I see," Shiro said. "Well, it'd seem Haibara-san trusts you a lot. You knew about her break before these kids, some of her closest friends, did, after all. Maybe that's because the two of you are a lot alike?"

S**t, he knows, Conan realized.

"But, then again, what do I know?" Shiro asked innocently, walking back from his interrogative demeanor of speech. "I'm just the new kid."

"Uh, anyways," Conan said to the three Detective Boys, "don't go around telling people why Haibara's gone. She wants to keep that a secret."

"By the way," Mitsuhiko said, looking at the time on his phone. "Doesn't the teacher seem to be running a little-"

*ahem* "I do apologize for my tardiness."

A man stood before all the students.

The student body immediately broke out into confused whispers.

"Order, please!" the man barked.

There was silence.

"Thank you," the man said. "Your former PE teacher will no longer be with you from this point on. I am his replacement. My name is Kanehiko Torishima."

Kanehiko, age 59, was a somewhat taller than average man. His most immediately striking feature was his big white beard. He was wearing jogging clothes.

One student raised his hand.

"If you're going to ask about my beard, lower your hand," he said.

The student lowered his hand.

"I would like to take the day to run some tests," he continued. "I'll be weighing and measuring the height of each and every one of you. Then, I'll use the data obtained to calculate your BMI."

There was some more confused chatter.

"BMI stands for Body Mass Index," he said. "One can derive a person's BMI by dividing body weight with height. People with a high BMI number have more body fat, usually. A little bit of body fat is alright, but a lot of people have too much body fat. Way too much. That's bad: being fat is bad for your self-image and confidence but, more importantly, it's bad for your health, and you won't live as long if you stay fat all your life. I can see that some of you here are visibly fat: for however much time we have together, I'd like to see all of us move towards a healthier way of living and towards a more ideal BMI. Now, if you'll please follow me to the gym..."

Scene Transition

"What's the matter, Genta-kun?" Ayumi asked.

"Yeah, you've been really quiet ever since PE let out," Mitsuhiko said.

"The new teacher says I'm going to die young," Genta said, opening up his locker.

"W-well, I don't think he meant it like that," Nancy said.

"Yo, Genta," Shiro said.

Genta turned and faced the boy.

"You and me," Shiro said. "Whatever sport you want."

"Huh?"

"You want to be more healthy, right?" Shiro said. "Exercise is a way to do it. Pick some kind of outdoor thing or exercise that sounds fun to you, and I'll be your partner."

"Eeh? Really?" Genta said, grateful. "Okay, gimme a day to think about it."

"Hey, come to think of it, where's Conan?" Mitsuhiko asked.

Scene Transition

"Friday night? Yeah, sure. Where are we-"

Conan slammed the door open and stepped into the teacher's lounge.

"Um, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to call you back," Kobayashi said.

"Wait," Shiratori said. "Why...?"

But Kobayashi had already hung up. She bent down to Conan's level.

"Do you need something, Conan-kun?"

"Kobayashi-sensei," Conan said in his childish voice. "I was wondering about the new teacher."

"Huh?"

"The new PE instructor, Torishima-sensei," Conan said. "What's his background?"

"And why would you need to know something like that, Conan-kun?" Kobayashi said with a chuckle.

"Please, it's important," Conan begged.

Kobayashi sighed. "Alright, don't tell anybody I told you this, okay?"

Conan nodded.

"From what I've heard, he's way overqualified for this job," Kobayashi said. "He's got a teaching position at a medical school, and he's written about 30 scholarly papers. And he was making pretty good money over there too, like ¥6,000,000 a year. But apparently, effective two days ago he handed in his immediate resignation from his tenured position to come teach elementary schoolers here. Kind of doesn't make sense, huh?"

Conan didn't answer.

"Hmm? Conan-kun? You look like there's something the matter."

"N-no, it's nothing," Conan said. "Hey, um, if you could please not tell anyone I came here asking about the new teacher..."

And with that, he ran out.

Scene Transition

Huh? she thought.

Nancy's phone vibrated. It was a message from Conan.

She read it out loud:

"Go on home without me, I'll be out late probably. Tell Kogoro and Eri that I'm at the Professor's place working on a school project with Haibara."

In other words, you're doing something dangerous again, Nancy thought. I wonder what it is this...

Then from a distance she saw it: Conan opened the door to a small vehicle and climbed in the back, closing the door behind him.

"What the h**l are you doing this time," she mumbled.

"Ehh? Nancy-chan?" Ayumi said. "What are staring at?"

"...Nothing," Nancy said. "Let's go."

A few seconds later, she saw the new teacher climb into the driver's seat of that same vehicle. And then he drove away, with Conan inside.

Scene Transition

This is bad, Conan realized.

Just as he was inserting the tracker underneath the driver's seat, Kanehiko suddenly just came inside outta nowhere and started the car. Now he couldn't get out.

Conan crouched down behind the driver's seat. He was momentarily disoriented when Torishima suddenly pulled the front seat up.

Torishima looked through his rear-view mirror.

The car in front hit a red light. Accordingly, Torishima pushed down on the breaks.

*thud*

"Hmm? Is someone back there?!" Torishima demanded. "Show yourself!"

Conan readied his wristwatch. He aimed.

Torishima leaned over and turned his head around...Conan fired.

It ricocheted off of the man's glasses, leaving a big crack in them.

"Gah!" Torishima said.

Hoping that he'd be momentarily disoriented, Conan tried the car door.

It wouldn't open.

"Heh? You're one of my students, aren't you?" Torishima said. "What did you just do to my glasses?"

Conan could only think of one thing left to do.

"S-Sumimasen!" Conan said childishly. "I was playing hide and seek with my friends and I thought this car would be a good place to hide."

Torishima sighed. "What's your name?"

"Conan Edogawa."

"Ah, your parents must've been mystery lovers, then," Torishima said. "Do you live around here, Conan-kun?"

"Close by," Conan said.

"Close enough to walk home?"

"W-well I don't know our bearings, so..."

The car behind honked.

Torishima, remembering about the light, looked forwards and pushed down on the accelerator.

"Look, Conan-kun, I've got business to attend to now and it'll be a few hours before I'll be free to leave. Until then, you're just going to have to wait outside."

"Outside? Can't I wait inside with you, sir? Where there's air conditioning?"

"Where I'm going doesn't allow children," Torishima said. "It's a sacred space, not to be readily defiled by outsiders. Strap yourself in."

Conan did so.

"Well, I guess I can leave the air conditioner inside the car on, though I hate having to do so for so long," Torishima said. "

"How long's it going to be in there?" Conan asked.

"About two hours, maybe two and a half. You, know, I think you should just call your parents and ask them to come get you. If you don't know where to tell them, just say you're along Himawari Street. That's where my business is. Ah, speaking of which...we're here."

Torishima parked the car and opened the door.

"Ojisan," Conan said, "What kind of...business is this?"

"..."

Hmm? Conan thought. He doesn't want to tell me, for some reason? I don't see any bars or strip clubs or adult entertainment centers on this street. This isn't known to be a red-light district either. So what reason would he have to be embarrassed about-

"...You're just a child, so I guess it's safe to tell you," Torishima said. "I'm meeting with the fellow members of my society. An organization shrouded in secrecy, its inner workings a mystery to the general public."

C-Could it be...?! Conan thought, alarmed.

"You won't tell anybody what I just told you, right, Conan-kun?"

He took off his damaged glasses and looked Conan straight in the eye, a fierce expression on his face.

Conan couldn't even swallow.

Is this him? he thought. Is this the one Bourbon was talking about? Mezcal? Is he about to meet with the Organization? If I don't answer him I'll look suspicious. But what should I...what did he even ask me...huh?

Torishima had gone on ahead already.

Kuso, I need proof of we're gonna stop him, Conan thought.

Torishima had ascended an outside staircase to the second floor of a brick building. At the top of the staircase was a doorway leading inside. Standing at that doorway was a man.

That man at the door was dressed funny, like a soldier from a 19th century European army. And of course, Conan couldn't overlook that the man was holding a sword.

Not like that's legal in Japan, Conan thought. But still, what's with the get-up? Whatmore, he's openly brandishing that sword. This doesn't match their MO at all.

The man let Torishima inside.

Whatever, Conan thought. Funny dress or not, that guy's job is to stand guard, to make sure people like like me can't get in. He's all that stands between me and Mezcal so...Here goes nothing!

He got out of the car through the left door and snuck around the corner of the brick complex.

He turned a knob on his bowtie and...

"YAAAAHHH! SOMEBODY HELP! PLEASE, HE'S GOING TO KILL ME!"

As the guard came running, Conan ran in the opposite direction.

He circled around and climbed the staircase.

Before the guard could catch a good look of him, and swung the door open wide and ran inside. Gravity caused the door to slam shut after him. Conan locked it so the man with the sword couldn't follow him in.

Scene Transition

He found himself in some kind of entrance hall. There was a closed double door.

He put his ear to the door, but he could hardly make out anything that way.

Very slowly he opened one of the two doors, slowly enough that there wouldn't be any creaking. Or at least in theory, anyway. The creaking was ultimately unavoidable. He just hoped nobody heard it. He heard one of them say:

"Will we open with a word of prayer?"

They aren't the Men in Black, he realized, a deadpan look on his face.

He opened the door and got a good look at them all. There was no Gin, no Vodka, nobody that he recognized. Just a bunch of middle-aged men in strange costumes.

"Who the h**l let this kid in?" one of them demanded.

Torishima stood up and ran straight to Conan.

"Didn't I tell you you can't be in here?" he said sternly.

"Oy, Kanehiko, you know his kid?"

"Y-yeah, kind of..."

Scene Transition

"So you're all Freemasons?" Conan asked, now standing in the middle of the large elaborately decorated room.

"Yeah," Torishima, the group's appointed Deacon, said. "This place here is Beika Masonic Lodge no. 7, and we're associated with the Grand Lodge of Japan."

"Our group only has six members," Matt Tenant, age 36, the man with the sword, said. "They're all present and accounted for today."

"You interrupted us in the middle of our ceremony, boy," Mitsuharu Ninomiya, age 40, Worshipful Master of the Lodge, said. "That wasn't cool."

"Eeh, I think we can excuse his impertinence this once," John Lohan, age 42, the Secretary-Treasurer, said. "Conan-kun, do you know what Freemasonry is?"

Conan nodded. "It's a centuries-old secret society, its proceedings steeped in ritualism related to the historic craft of stonemasonry. To join, one must be of good moral fiber and believe in a creator deity."

"Very good," Sangoro Takatsugu, age 46, the Senior Warden, said. "Sounds like you could make for a fine member one day."

"Speaking of members," Hikaru Sarugakure, age 41, the Junior Warden, said, "today we hold that matter up to vote, right? The inclusion of two new members."

Matt sighed. "I hardly see the point. That person's just gonna veto it again."

"After today, that's going to change," Hikaru said.

"Heeh?" Mitsuharu said. "Hikaru, you got the necessary backing?"

"Yeah," Hikaru said. "I got the petition of everyone here. So before we hold the vote on new members, I would like to motion in favor of voting on the proposed amendment to our rules of procedure."

"Huh?" Conan said.

"Confused, aren't you?" Torishima said to the boy. "Whenever we freemasons are considering letting a new guy join our ranks, we hold it up to a vote."

"But here's the kicker," Hikaru said. "It only takes one 'Nay' vote to prohibit the person from joining. And it's all done by secret ballot, by means of dropping a white ball for yes and a black cube for nay."

"That's the way the Masons have always done things," Sangoro said. "And usually there aren't any major problems with this. But one person here has betrayed the sacred trust of the Masons, misused the power of the veto to sabotage our group from within."

"Hikaru proposes that we require two votes to blackball a candidate," Mitsuharu said. "We never wanted to resort to such a large break in Masonic tradition, but we're kind of desperate for new members right now."

There was a pause.

"Wait, why did we tell this random kid all this?" Matt asked.

"He's an old soul, that's why," Torishima said.

*laughter*

That remark was a little too close to home for Conan's comfort though.

"Um, so is it alright with you guys if Conan-kun sits in on today's meet?" Torishima asked.

"Whoa there," Lohan said. "Him interrupting us at the start is one thing, but this boy actually sitting in as we conduct our Masonic practices? That's a little much, don't you think?"

Hikaru shrugged. "I don't mind. And who knows today might spark a chain of events that one day leads to him becoming a Masonic brother."

Scene Transition

"The top part of any building is its central component," Sangoro said. "I've never been in a home or office that didn't have a ceiling or roof, save ten years ago when I was briefly involved with a hurricane relief effort and saw some having been torn off."

The main chamber room of the Masonic Hall was rectangular in shape. Assuming that the entrance to the chamber room was on its left side, the Worshipful Master Mitsuharu sat on a throne located on the far right side of the room, surrounded by the Secretary-Treasurer Lohan and the Deacon Torishima. On the south side sat the Junior Warden Hikaru, by himself. As the Tiler (the person who keeps guard at the entrance to Masonic Lodges), Matt Tenant wasn't present in the room. All seats faced the center. Conan sat next to Hikaru. Sangoro was the one standing in the center, giving the presentation.

Starting a few feet from the room's entrance and ending near its approximate center was an 8x8 black and white tile grid, strongly resembling a chessboard. Then was a round seal in the center of the room; at the center of the round seal was a pedestal. On that pedestal was a book. On closer inspection that book was the Nihon Shoki, an ancient Japanese text detailing the classic myths and legends of the Japanese people.

"When you think about it, a ceiling is something that holds you back," Sangoro said. "At night it blocks your view of the stars. You cannot go up without eventually bumping your head on the ceiling. Indeed, man has even devised terms like 'glass ceiling' to refer to the structural limits women face in trying to ascend the ladder of upward mobility."

"But as they hold stuff in, they also keep things out," he continued. "Unwelcome things like rain, hail, lighting, and snow. Every home needs a roof, because as much as we may dislike the limits they impose on us, we need them. Gentlemen, I would now like to address you concerning the worldwide explosion in artificial intelligence and the coming technological singularity."

Scene Transition

The presentation was over. They all headed to the entrance hall. Conan hadn't noticed it earlier, but there was a table lined against the wall with refreshments, food and drink.

As Conan enjoyed his chicken salad sandwich:

"How did you like it, Conan-kun?" Torishima asked. "The whole was way over your head, I'll bet."

Conan shook his head. "Actually, I thought he was fascinating. And he seemed very well-researched in the subject matter. But I would raise an objection to his main premise."

"Oh? And what's that?"

"That the replacement of homo sapiens by supremely advanced artificial intelligence is necessarily a bad thing," Conan said. "When we think of computers, we think of high computing power, the ability to rapidly perform mathematical calculations. But he seems to have forgotten intelligence is a very wide-encompassing term. There's conventional intelligence, but then there's also emotional and social intelligence. We think of computers as void of emotional and spiritual components, but what if the AI of the future turns out to be more human than any of us? What if, to them, we're the cold, lifeless machines?"

"Well, that's a very mature response from you, Conan-kun," Torishima said, clearly a bit shocked.

In the background, nobody noticed as Hikaru opened the door and headed back into the main chamber room.

"I must say, that was an excellent presentation," Lohan said.

"Oh, no, it wasn't as good as the ones you usually do, John-san," Sangoro said. "But on this subject, concerning your presentation last time you weren't completely clear on the nature of the distinction between-"

And then the lights went out.

Scene Transition

Haibara tapped her foot impatiently.

They never said anything about this, she thought, feeling somewhat betrayed.

And then the van door opened. The doctor stepped inside.

"You're clean," he said. "You'll be taken up ahead shortly, thank you for your cooperation."

"Oi, was it really necessary to X-Ray me?" Haibara asked, teed off.

"Yes," the doctor said bluntly. "Your parents would've never agreed to this otherwise."

"And how am I?" Haibara asked.

"You're a perfectly healthy girl," the doctor said cheerfully. "We detected no...complications, so there's no reason to detain you here any longer. It's good to see you again, Shiho-chan."

"Huuh?"

"Oh, confused?" he said with a chuckle. "I used to be your physician when you were really little. I even remember you biting me once when I was trying to administer your flu shot."

Sounds like something I would do, she thought with a deadpan look.

"But I guess you wouldn't remember any of that," he said.

"Actually...wait, are you...Daizu-sensei?!"

"Yup! Long time no see! I'd say you haven't aged a day, but I guess we both know that isn't technically true. But we'll have more time to catch up later: right now your family's waiting."

Scene Transition

It was about five minutes before the lights turned back on.

"Well, that was...unexpected," Mitsuharu said.

"In the sixteen years I've been coming here the power's never gone out even once," Lohan said.

"So I called the people downstairs and they say it went out for them too," Sangoro said.

The problem was fixed too quickly for it to have been from a downed power line, Conan thought. So what could it have...

"WAAAAAAAAHHHH!"

Upon hearing Sangoro's scream they all rushed straight from the chamber room, where they saw:

"H-Hikaru?!" Lohan said.

Mitsuharu whipped out his phone to dial 110.

Matt entered at that point. "W-what is this?! Is Hikaru dead?! Why the h*ll is he-"

"Look!" Conan exclaimed, pointing to the floor surrounding Hikaru.

On each black or white tile Hikaru had made a bloody handprint. Hikaru's dead body (cause of death was a knife wound to the stomach) had its hand stretched out, touching one particular tile, which also had a bloody handprint.

"This is...!" Torishima began.

"A dying message," Conan said.

(Author's Note: View the "Dying Message" chapter for details on what the victim's message looked like.)

Ending

(Hoshi Monogatari by Egoist)

I know you've taken this from my cold dead fingertips

I wrote this to tell you what I never had the nerve to say

Because I know that right now, you're punishing yourself

Because you of all people deserve to know the whole story

Once I was only a child, but I was old enough to understand

Something important was missing, though I didn't know what

I wandered in the dark, calling to the crowd, "Excuse me, sirs!"

"Somebody, anybody, please, tell me what I'm doing wrong!"

Finally, on the starry night of Tanabata, I looked out my window

And said, "Kami-sama, if you could let me have a friend, just one.

One who's true and faithful, and funny, but most of all spirited.

This one thing I ask, and I'll never ask for anything ever again."

And then I met you, and in what seemed like an eternity I had

The chance to know you, and for the first time I was really happy

It never ended, you see, that initial bliss: it grew, as we grew closer

Thank you, my one and dearest friend, for teaching me how to love

To Be Continued

Next Conan's Hint: Knight