Chapter 05: Babel

He returned to the office, arriving late at night.

He phoned Lilie before going to the police, only to tell her that he would not be able to come home that night. She was probably already asleep by now anyway.

On the desk, the remnants of the familiar end of last night’s evening drink gently and decadently greeted the completely worn out Ryuuji. Ryuuji changed into his lounge-wear and, finding an untouched fish sausage, finely chopped it, cooked it in a frying pan, and picked it up. Pushing things aside on the desk, he placed the skimpy cuisine and a bottle of Taplows* in the space he cleared. He poured the contents of the bottle into a whisky glass and downed it in mouthful, then waited for it to settle in his stomach. Sitting down, he leaned against the back of the chair and gazed at the ceiling. His body became hot, and, under the compress, the spot where Mr. Yodogawa struck his face throbbed.

What a day it’s been, he thought.

A client died right before his eyes. Jumped to his death. Suddenly went mad and smashed out a window in the middle of talking about work, and jumped from the sixth-storey of a building. Couldn’t be restrained. It all happened so fast.

He remembered the words of the middle-aged police officer.

“There are a lot of witnesses, and there will be no charges laid in this random suicide case…”

Was that really true?

There was certainly a sense of discomfort in Mr. Yodogawa’s appearance today. He’d been drinking. He seemed to be emotionally unstable. He shouted loudly. He’d apparently been taking tranquilizers.

But would that explain being led to such a sudden suicide? It seemed likely to Ryuuji that Mr. Yodogawa had been talking to someone just before all this.

He did not know Mr. Yodogawa personally. He’d been very precise in how he presented himself and clients had known him better than his old acquaintances. This was as far as his relationships went. However, he’d been caught up in something. At that time, Mr. Yodogawa had had something to ask Ryuuji. What had he said? Rats. That was it, rats.

“I want you to exterminate the rats,” Mr. Yodogawa had said.

Could that have been nothing more than delirious, incoherent babble?

Ryuuji sat down and looked at the paper package Mr. Yodogawa brought to the “Seadragon.” He ought to have submitted this item to the police, at least that was his intention. However, he changed his mind due to his association with the drawn-out investigation. Actually, he changed his mind when he discovered the telephone cards he received.

He took a box-cutter in hand and carefully cut the packing tape around the packaging.

A black box-shaped glasses case came out. Strictly speaking, it looked a lot like a glasses case. There was something familiar about this case to Ryuuji. Momentarily distracted, he moved his hand forward and opened the case. Inside was contained something that looked like glasses. However, these were not glasses. It looked like something called an FMD, a Face-Mounted Display, used for communicating in online games. However, this was not an FMD. Ryuuji knew what it was.

It was a VR-Scanner.

He held it for a while and looked at it.

There was a time once when Ryuuji worked on the research influenced by Jyotarou Amagi’s proposed Real Digitization ideology. The VR-Scanner was produced as a byproduct in this process. By using an optical sensor to connect the optic nerve and performing an operation on the “Schicksal Player-character”, medical technology recovers the mentally afflicted part of the test subject with high compatibility for the digital world.

When he resigned from from CC Corp. Japan three years ago, Ryuuji transferred to a company with all his research and data, including the VR-Scanner. Ryuuji renounced all of his rights as a developer. Such was the contract of employment. Therefore, Ryuuji, for the first time in three years, was actually able to hold this device in his hands.

The remnants of a dream of Ryuuji Sogabe’s as a psychotherapy researcher, so to speak.

He started his desktop PC and used a code to link his PC and VR-Scanner.

Immediately, on the other side of the monitor, the PC-data installed on the VR-Scanner stood out like a wax model that had been given a coating. It was a tall, lean figure. Black hair. Light-weight clothing. Somewhat lanky limbs. A monocle in his right eye.

It was just as he had expected. Reunited with his dear old friend “Flügel.”

Why was the VR-Scanner here? It was because Director Yodogawa brought it with him.

Then, why did Mr. Yodogawa bring this along and lay it across from Ryuuji? Mr. Yodogawa didn’t select Ryuuji for some half-hearted reason that he simply did not want to be known to an in-house employee. He came with this request because of Ryuuji.

“I want you to investigate whether Geist released a virus,” said Mr. Yodogawa when they first met. It was obvious that there was a different intent behind the scenes. The question lay there. What was it that Mr. Yodogawa wanted Ryuuji to do? Did he intend for Ryuuji to use this Flügel in some way?

His head hurt too much to keep thinking. He didn’t even know if he was drunk again.

Ryuuji opened a drawer and retrieved a pack of playing cards to play a one-person card game. He moved away from his desk, leaving his computer as it was, sat down on the sofa, shuffled the cards, and arranged them one by one onto the reception table. It was a one-person game called Babel.

When Ryuuji arranged them in his head, he did it in order to play this game. He continued arranging the cards methodically in accordance with the rules. It’s name is derived from the story that, as they packed the cards in their hands, and the cards kept piling up little by little, players were reminded of the Biblical tale. You had to admire this sort of human taste in naming. In any case, it was the perfect tool for clearing the mind.

While sorting the cards, Ryuuji put all unknown matters to the side for the moment, and tried to consider only practical matters.

Was there a cost to this problem? No. On the contrary, he’d already received an advance payment which was more than enough.

With the exception of this matter, did he have any high-priority work? No.

In order to divert leisure time, would he rather have the Taplows while snacking on the somewhat shoddy fried fish-meat sausage? He wasn’t so sure about that…

Soon the cards were divided into a stalemate. Game over. Concluded in accordance with the Scriptures.

He felt bad about the work he’d left undone. That was certain.

With what appeared to be the conclusion, Ryuuji drained the remnants of his glass and stretched out on the sofa. Then he slept.

END OF CHAPTER

Translator’s Notes:
*Taplows is a brand of Scotch whisky made in Scotland.

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