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Bureiku Suru - (Breakthrough, Great Magazine, 1999). This is the first real story to delve into Touma's past, although there's still not much real information here. The first page shows someone tearing up Touma's big "breakthrough" paper, then the scene shifts to Touma standing on the roof catching snowflakes on his tongue while the rest of the class stays indoors and calls him crazy. Suddenly, one of the school's office staff grabs the only English-speaking teacher and drags him out to the front hall where two foreigners are discussing a simple proof in perfect Japanese. No one in the school can understand the math, until Touma shows up and completes the final equation. The tall guy with the light-colored hair apologizes for causing the disruption, but he'd flown all the way to Japan to talk to Sou. Those three, plus Kana, continue the conversation at a fastfood shop. The guy is introduced as math whiz Sid Green, AKA Loki, while the woman is his partner, computer expert Eva Sukta. Loki complains that Touma had simply disappeared from MIT under a cloud of suspicion, and he'd been searching for the boy ever since. He wants an explanation, but Touma isn't talking. We get a flashback, where Touma's professor is asking for the boy's dissertation, which had been described as a "big breakthrough". Touma answers that it's been stolen and all his files erased. As he walks in the hallway, he overhears someone spreading the rumor that Loki was the culprit, being jealous of Touma's superior intellect. Sou runs back to the office to tell the professor that he'd deleted the files himself, and the professor replies that there's no choice but to expell him from the school. On the other hand, in Loki's own flashback as a TA in MIT, he's getting desperate because none of his students understand his lessons, until he finally encounters Touma. Loki's anger stems largely from the belief that Touma would take the blame for the loss of his paper to protect someone else, and thus that Sou doesn't trust him.
As part of a trap, Loki shows a box containing 6 pearl necklaces. Later, during some sightseeing, Loki leaves the case in the car with Kana, while he and Touma go to the top of Tokyo Tower alone. Kana starts thinking that Loki really does want to hurt her friend, but when she tries to leave the car, Eva blocks her. Loki and Touma do return unscathed, but now when the box is opened, there's only 5 necklaces. Loki accuses Kana of stealing one, but before she can react, Touma pulls the necklace out of his pocket and returns it to Loki, apologizing for getting her into trouble. This is exactly the kind of behavior that Loki hates. At the end of the trip, Kana finds that Touma has gone to the airport with Loki and Eva, and she realizes that the point of their visit was to bring Sou back to MIT. She rushes out to Narita, only to find out that everything is ok. However, while Eva was souvenir shopping, Loki and Touma finally had a chance to talk, and Loki realizes that there may have been a second person that Touma had been covering for when he left MIT.
There's not really a lot of science this time, some math and logic puzzles though. One example: If a tree has grown 1 meter in the first year, a 1/2 meter in the second year, a 1/4 in the third, an 1/8th in the fourth, etc., then how tall will it be in year 1000? Or, if 100 kg of iron and 100 kg of cotton both weigh the same, which would you rather have fall on your head? There's also a mention of the conflict between the two geniuses and friends Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin that had led to van Gogh cutting up his own ear.
Aseta Seizu (Faded Star Map, Great Magazine, 1999). We finally have a successful call back! The ending ties into the opening! Sasuga, Katou-san! In the middle of the Japanese Alps (possibly around Nagano), a real estate agent is investigating a large home-made star observatory that the previous owner's family is looking at selling. The owner had disappeared suddenly 25 years before, and his two adult sons, the owner's wife's brother and an astronomer friend are gathered together for the sale. As the agent is talking, he leans on a release lever that causes the back mirror to disengage and reveals a charred corpse that had been hidden inside the telescope. Meanwhile, Kana's class is on a winter ski trip and they're being embarrassed by Touma's inability to ski. Kana takes him up the slope to the top of a triple black diamond route, but before he can walk back down, a storm blows in and traps them. A young girl happens by and invites them to stay the night at the observatory (she's the granddaughter of the former owner). During the night, the uncle, who has been drinking too much, keeps running to the toilet. In the morning, he's found hanging by the neck from a rope tied to the outside supports of the telescope. Also, with electricity and water restored to the building, the telescope reactivates and tracks 3 stars for a couple hours each.
(Brahe, Kepler and Hubble, plus a mention of the expanding universe.)
The former owner had dreamed of having his own observatory, and with the help of his wife's money was able to finally construct the best telescope in Japan at the time. However, his wife fell ill and no one else was willing to front the cash to pay for her treatments. The choice came down to selling the observatory or letting her die. So, why didn't the owner sell? Who actually drew a picture of the dog star that's hanging on the wall in the observatory? What happened to the former owner 25 years ago? Why was the corpse in the telescope so charred? Why did the snow from the storm that blew through cracks in the telescope building walls only form on one side? Who killed the wife's brother and how did he do it with no one noticing? What is the connection between the three observed stars and the two murder cases?
Naturally, the science discussions revolve around star viewing and telescopes. The scope featured in the story is a Gregorian reflector which uses two mirrors to direct the image to the eye piece at the back of the telescope. There's a brief history of star viewing, with mentions of Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Edwin Hubble, and Hubble's discovery that the universe is expanding. The Hubble constant and Hubble space observatory are named after him.
Comments: One thing that's interesting to me about this series is that no one is able to keep up with Touma's reasoning unless the explanations are spelled out in excruciating detail. Even Loki, who views Sou as his mental equal, can't figure out why the boy took the blame for the missing "breakthrough paper", even though the list of suspects should have made that pretty obvious. The information about telescopes is fairly cursory, but if you like star viewing, it's still useful. Recommended. (One more comment: While Kana in volume 1 says that Touma graduated from MIT at age 14, Loki says that he was 15. The character profiles at the beginning of the books start appearing with this volume, and they reinforce the "age 15" thing.)