In Haruki Murakami’s 1985 novel “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World,” one of the two protagonists is a coolheaded data agent working for the monolithic “System” that protects the world from “Semiotec” data thieves. He takes on a job that’s a little too dangerous and finds himself confronted with freelancing goons eager to carve out their own piece of the action.

The goons visit him at his apartment and tear the place apart, yet the data agent remains remarkably polite through the whole ordeal: At one point, however, after they’ve destroyed his whiskey collection, he says, “Hitotsu kikitainda keredo” (「ひとつ訊きたいんだけれど」, “There’s one thing I’d like to ask”). “Kimi-tachi ni kyōryoku shite ‘Shisutemu’ ni uso wo tsuku koto no meritto wa ittai doko ni arundarō?” (「君たちに協力して『システム』に嘘をつくことのメリットはいったいどこにあるんだろう?」, “How the hell would I benefit from cooperating with you two and lying to the System?”).

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