The “Seadragon”, specified by Mr. Yodogawa, was located at a corner of a business district, on the sixth floor of an old building. It was a fairly thriving high-class Chinese restaurant located far from CyberConnect Corp. Japan in Odaiba. He must have selected a distant location on purpose.
Ryuuji took a piece of candy from his mouth, threw it into the garbage bin located in the first floor lobby, and entered the elevator.
The restaurant was empty. Lunchtime was over and it was time for a breather.
Mr. Yodogawa was already sitting at a table in the corner, waiting for Ryuuji. Light shone in through a window by the seats, illuminating the table.
Ryuuji watched an employee serve Chinese alcohol with a dim sum platter, then sat across from Mr. Yodogawa and greeted him.
“Hello, Mr. Yodogawa. Sorry to have kept you waiting,” said Ryuuji.
Mr. Yodogawa turned his plump flushed face to Ryuuji. His eyes were bloodshot. He also seemed to have been drinking. Beads of sweat slowly ran down his forehead.
He expressly called Ryuuji in confidence to talk about a request, that is to say, to have a business discussion. With a man such as Yodogawa under the influence of alcohol, there was a strong sense of discomfort as he did not talk of any negotiations.
“Excuse my rudeness. How about a drink?” he asked in a firm tone.
“No, thank you. I came by car, you see,” answered Ryuuji.
Ryuuji requested a cup of oolong tea from a passing waiter.
It was just before the start of Golden Week* a month ago that he got a call from Mr. Yodogawa for the first time.
Mr. Yodogawa said on the telephone that he wanted to talk about Ryuuji’s great ability and dedication, and to offer him a job.
Three years earlier in 2020, when Ryuuji still worked at CC Corp. Japan, he came face-to-face with Mr. Yodogawa on several occasions through acquaintances. Mr. Yodogawa joined the company approximately six years earlier. At that time, he was not the director, but was employed as the Secretarial Office Chief. Though he was nonetheless the same company-man and human being that he was when he first arrived, when it came down to it, Ryuuji felt that Mr. Yodogawa had completely changed.
After his resignation, Ryuuji did not know whether he heard about the so-called vacancy in the Network Trouble Consultant office by chance somewhere, or whether he investigated and ascertained this information himself. However, to be requested for a specific job was in itself a kind of fact.
In other words, the position was not known to other in-house employees.
In any case, special knowledge and skill are required for investigations concerning “The World.”
Mr. Yodogawa brought up a curious request.
“There’s a rumour that the PC called “Geist” unleashed a computer virus. I want you to find out the truth.”
“Right now, I’m backed up with too much work. If I can’t drink alcohol, it’s unbearable,” explained Mr. Yodogawa.
“That’s fine. Ah, Mr. Yodogawa, the new title was officially publicized. I saw it in the newspaper. Versus… umm……”
“VERSUS: The World. I was finally able to announce it.”
Between the gossip and small-talk, the orders soon arrived. With this, there would be no further intrusions from employees.
“I met Dr. Amagi,” said Mr. Yodogawa after a while.
As the director of CC Corp. Japan, Mr. Yodogawa had grasped the events surrounding “The World” of the past.
He also knew that Jyotarou Amagi created the underlying cause of the Immortal Dusk Incident of 2020 by transferring his A.I. Copy into Geist and having him execute the program.
“Yes, the letter of introduction I received was useful,” said Ryuuji.
“He, that…” continued Ryuuji.
“I did not learn anything in regards to Geist. He even filled out a report, but his memory goes back to before 2015. The present Dr. Amagi is unrelated to the previous incidents… he is harmless,” Ryuuji concluded.
“Because of Dr. Amagi’s situation, our plan must be put on hold,” said Mr. Yodogawa with a look of disappointment.
“Well, I guess so. However, it’s most likely just a rumour, a hoax that became costly.”
“It can’t be a hoax!”
Suddenly Mr. Yodogawa’s loud voice revealed itself. Seeing that he drew the attention of those in the restaurant, Mr. Yodogawa stirred with apparent discomfort.
“Sorry,” he apologized in a whisper.
“But, this is not simply a hoax. Without a doubt, the person who has been spreading the computer virus is still somewhere in “The World.” I believe that person to be Geist,” Mr. Yodogawa continued.
“What was it you said, that when it comes to the world-class MMORPG “The World”, some gossip about a computer virus is the price of being famous? I’m shocked speechless that someone in a position like yours could make such a reckless remark now. Rather, it doesn’t make sense,” Ryuuji said.
Mr. Yodogawa’s eyelids twitched and convulsed. He seemed to be have become rather emotionally unstable.
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“I didn’t say that, and I’m not trying to attack you,” said Ryuuji.
Mr. Yodogawa fell silent.
“Your current request is very unnatural. There is a rumour that someone is spreading a virus through the online game. You somehow know the culprit, this person called Geist. Yet, on the Net there are many people to investigate. As is often the case, the irresponsible one behind the aforementioned rumour won’t be found. Do you know something? If you want to do something to me, please let me know. You called me out here today of all days with this plan,” Ryuuji continued.
Mr. Yodogawa’s mouth remained closed and his eyes were cast down at the table as before.
Ryuuji downed his glass in one mouthful.
“Come now, I’ll wait a little. We’re socializing with small talk. Oolong tea is good for the health, I’ve been drinking quite a lot since last Friday. But, sooner or later you’ll get down to the business of facts, or I’ll vanish from your sight.”
Still Mr. Yodogawa cast his eyes downward and was silent. There appeared to be a conflict with what was obvious upon close inspection. He firmly grasped the edges of the table with both his hands.
He felt his stiff feet loosening and looked at Ryuuji in order to gather his thoughts.
“If I want to request additional cases, how much would you charge?” asked Mr. Yodogawa.
“Depending on what it is, there may be extra fees. As a rule, the criteria are established in accordance with previous talks. One week is 300,000 yen. And then there are necessary expenses.”
“Regardless of whether you accept it or not, I want you to promise to keep it a secret.”
“Can I depend on you?”
With the talk finally showing signs of advancing, Ryuuji displayed his extraordinarily harmless business smile.
Mr. Yodogawa took something, which was wrapped in a paper bag, from inside his suit pocket and handed it to Ryuuji.
Mr. Yodogawa opened his mouth to answer Ryuuji’s question, when his portable terminal’s ringtone sounded. Mr. Yodogawa’s suit pocket shook from the portable terminal’s vibrate function.
“Ah, excuse me,” he said.
Hindering the talk, Mr. Yodogawa instantly became ashen-faced and answered his portable terminal. It seemed to be something relating to work, so Mr. Yodogawa stood up and walked to the restroom.
Subsequently, Ryuuji was left behind to gaze at the paper bag in boredom. He held the bag in his hand in order to judge what was inside, and felt what seemed to be a case for glasses. However, having been firmly fixed in place with cloth tape, he would not be able to see inside without tearing the paper bag. Ryuuji considered it a little, but decided to wait for Mr. Yodogawa to return.
Eventually, Mr. Yodogawa returned and sat in his chair.
“Mr. Yodogawa, what is this?” asked Ryuuji.
Then Ryuuji noticed something unusual with Mr. Yodogawa. He was trembling bit by bit. His teeth started to make a nervous chattering sound. Seemingly not able to control himself, he wiped the sweat from his face awkwardly and spoke as he panted. Despite his hoarse voice, he could be heard quite clearly.
“I want you to exterminate the rats.”
“Pardon me… rats?”
“Don’t you get it? They’re biting me!” Mr. Yodogawa cried out.
Once again the looks of the restaurants patrons were gathered on him. However, this time Mr. Yodogawa did not become silent. Rising from his seat as though he was repelled by it, he continued yelling.
“Some slimy dripping things are beckoning them to my feet. The stench is soaking into my eyes. They’re climbing up the air-duct and attacking me. They’re biting me! They’re biting me!”
He opened his eyes wide. It looked like his pupils and irises were melting into the whites of the eyes. Countless beads of cold sweat ran down his forehead. His breathing was laboured and shallow.
Ryuuji stood up and went around the table to put his hands on Mr. Yodogawa’s shoulders.
“Mr. Yodogawa, calm down.”
“What’s going on?”
A waiter came along and stood on the defensive.
“You’re bothering the other customers,” the waiter said.
“It’s nothing. Please bring some cold water,” said Ryuuji.
When Ryuuji was distracted, Mr. Yodogawa’s right fist hit just under Ryuuji’s left eye. Though he was shorter than Ryuuji, there was an unexpected brute strength in Mr. Yodogawa’s muscles.
Completely caught off guard, Ryuuji staggered greatly from the force of Mr. Yodogawa’s hand.
“When he comes back with the water, he’ll think you bumped your nose. Why don’t you go numb the pain with some ice!” said Mr. Yodogawa.
Mr. Yodogawa jumped up on top of the table and, while shouting and muttering incoherently, kicked and broke a window with the heel of his shoe. The glass shattered with an intense sound.
Now, for the first time, screams came from the restaurant’s female customers. After this, they seemed to foresee what would happen next.
Mr. Yodogawa slowly placed his right foot on the window frame. Then, his left foot.
“Mr. Yodogawa!” cried out Ryuuji as he held his left cheek.
Mr. Yodogawa looked back. His eyes met with Ryuuji’s. He smiled as tears flowed down his face. He passed through the window and fell head-first.
After that moment, a smashing sound could be heard from where Ryuuji sat on the sixth floor.
Ryuuji rushed over to the window and looked down at the ground.
He couldn’t look. He thought it better not to see the body, but it was impossible not to look. The body lay twisted by a twenty-five-metre fall from a six-storey building to the asphalt sidewalk below. Until a little while ago, that thing had been a lively human being.
END OF CHAPTER
*Golden week is a week-long holiday season in Japan, occurring in early-May.