The next morning, Ryuuji left the office and returned to his apartment building. He stuffed the laundry in a vinyl bag, went inside and slipped the card-key into his apartment door.
Lilie was already awake, watching morning cartoons in the living room while dressed in her pyjamas. As Ryuuji entered, Lilie, realizing the situation, became panicked.
“Grid, news,” she said.
The TV channel quickly changed and became a news program.
Since around the time just before she became a junior high school student, Lilie became bashful about watching child-oriented anime in front of Ryuuji. Perhaps a sign of puberty.
“Good morning,” said Ryuuji.
Lilie replied, trying to appear calm and collected.
Having just changed the channel again on a whim, she called out to return to the original news program.
Then she looked at Ryuuji’s face and raised her eyebrows.
“What happened there?”
Before he’d left the office, Ryuuji removed the compress from under his left eye and applied a large bandage to the area. Even so, it looked like nothing more than a squished pimple.
“I squished a huge pimple. It was horribly painful,” he said.
Lilie frowned and didn’t enquire any further.
“What will you do about breakfast? You should eat soon,” she said.
“I’ll eat right now,” said Ryuuji.
He was hungry. He thought about it, and realized he hadn’t eaten sufficiently yesterday.
“Grid, kitchen,” said Lilie.
In the kitchen on the other end of the hallway, the ventilation fan began to whir.
“Grid” was the name given to the server-robot who managed Ryuuji’s household consumer electronics.
Lilie instructed “Grid” to activate the cooking appliances, and it promptly prepared the breakfast arrangements. Rice, miso soup, bacon and eggs. And of course, pickled vegetables.
They sat down face-to-face at the kitchen table.
The advantage of the lofty family dining table was that you wouldn’t be hindered by anyone.
The problem was, every time he bit into the pickled vegetables, he felt a sharp pain running through his left cheek. The swelling fortunately looked like it was going down. Even if he didn’t take off the bandage, he didn’t think he could care less about how he looked. He casually tilted his head and chewed with the teeth on his right side, its effectiveness in relieving the pain was close to nil.
Suddenly raising her head, Lilie, who had finished eating, looked at Ryuuji, who looked too concerned to eat.
“Hey, that’s strange,” she said while looking at Ryuuji’s swollen cheek.
“Did something happen?” she added.
“To be honest, I forgot to buy garbage bags. Sorry.”
“That’s not it.”
“Well, other than that…” said Ryuuji, turning away as he talked.
“Here’s a gift of thanks for the wonderful pickled vegetables,” he added.
He took out the envelope case and placed it before Lilie.
“Huh? What is it?” said Lilie loudly, taken by surprise.
She snatched up the envelope.
She peered inside, her doubting face formed a seemingly happy facial expression for several seconds, and, left speechless, she looked back up at Ryuuji.
“What are these?” she asked.
“They’re cards that you use in a public telephone. Try them. They’re a good deal.”
“Public telephone?” said Lilie, as she titled her head.
“Huh?” she added with a puzzled tone, making a somewhat confused facial expression.
“Ah, I see… You’ve never seen one.”
Lilie came along with Ryuuji to Japan six years ago. At that time, public telephones were being eliminated, and many of them had already been removed. No, perhaps they were completely removed by the time she arrived. She had not known about the existence of public telephones and telephone cards. A generation gap.
“Ah. Well, in the olden days such convenient public instalments existed. You could use these cards to make calls,” said Ryuuji, trying to explain the gist of the situation.
“If you had a cell phone, wouldn’t you not need these?”
“If electrical power were to go out in an emergency, you’d be worried. So, with the auspices of the police, the old telephone line has recently been making a comeback. You know, it’s the mark of an endorsement from the Metropolitan Police Department.”
“But where would you use it? I’ve, well, never seen anything like a public telephone.”
“You’re right. Where would you use it, I wonder,” said Ryuuji.
“As far as that goes, I really don’t know,” he added.
“Despite not knowing, did you look it up?”
She tried searching with her portable terminal’s Net search.
“…Wow. It seems even a large station or the airport is useful, eh? The number of machines still operating in the country is around two-hundred. …Two-hundred? Two hundred doesn’t seem to be enough. Ah, I see. So, even the cards are rare.”
“Am I wrong?”
“I don’t know. Geez. I said it was fine.”
“Well, do what you want with it. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Japanese is funny,” said Lilie.
“Now listen here, you.”
“Aren’t the illustrations of the mascots cute?” added Ryuuji in a soft voice.
“I don’t need them,” said Lilie flatly, with such timing that it seemed to be the end of the conversation.
She collected her tableware and pushed the case envelope over to Ryuuji, then quickly proceeded to the sink.
Even now, you sometimes hear of the infamous “Resurrection” of six years earlier, in 2017.
After having lived away in Germany for many years and having gotten used to it, Ryuuji returned to Japan with Lilie.
Lilie, who was seven years old at the time, is a distant relative of Ryuuji’s late wife. After losing her family in a train accident, she suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Having no other relatives than Ryuuji, she would have been sent to an institution had he refused to take her. Had Ryuuji not taken appropriate action, she would have been an orphan with serious mental issues.
At the end of the day, leaving her native Germany was probably the best thing for her.
The same could be said for Ryuuji.
Leaving the drying of the dishes to “Grid,” Lilie dressed into a plain clothes combination of a shirt with a skirt and leggings, and went outside to play. She had a play-date with a friend. In spite of having just been on a long-awaited holiday, her vitality was amazing.
After he saw Lilie off, Ryuuji sat down on the living room sofa, retrieved his portable terminal and Palm-PC, and set them on the table.
After he’d returned to the office, he considered starting on his work, and since Lilie was now gone out, he thought he could use this opportunity wisely.
He deployed the Palm-PC’s keypad and the power automatically turned on, and the login screen for “The World R:X” appeared.
“R:X” was the latest in “The World” series of games, released in 2020. According to official reports, the number of worldwide users exceeds one million people. The old versions, “R:1” and “R:2”, showed a decrease in popularity, but this version boasts the highest popularity of any online game in the industry.
He first loaded a thread on the Official Bulletin Board. One month ago, Ryuuji started it himself.
“To the Magician of Destiny. Requesting contact. E-mail accepted.”
There was not even one response. It was only natural. This was because this message was very cryptic to an outsider, and Geist, who was the target from the beginning, no longer existed in this “World.”
During the Immortal Dusk Incident of 2020, Jyotarou Amagi’s Copy AI “Magician” Geist was crushed and terminated by a gigantic Jyotarou Amagi who had been induced with Outer Dependency Syndrome. There wasn’t even a fragment left. Despite faithfully serving his master, a cruel reward was bestowed upon the Conjurer for carrying out the plot to it’s end.
Ryuuji had witnessed the scene through the eyes of Flugel. That’s how he knew that Geist “was not there.”
However, right now he had no objection to respecting the dying wish of his recently deceased client. He just had to look into talks related to “the hacker who identifies himself as Geist.” There wasn’t much time.
Ryuuji typed on the keypad and added the new information.
“To the Magician of Destiny. Concerning the extermination of rats. Requesting contact. E-mail accepted.”
Then, he looked at the other popular Bulletin Boards and was not particularly worried.
Using his Palm-PC, this time he accessed NAB’s (Network Administration Bureau) site from his portable terminal. Having acquired a Network Supervisor license that is issued by NAB, Ryuuji, an ordinary person, was able to access otherwise inaccessible pages.
He input the ID and password and the industry news page, which updates in real-time, opened before him. He took his time carefully going over the Bulletin Board.
There was one big news item to worry about.
There was an article stating that CyberConnect Corp. San Diego’s female President, Veronica Bain seemingly intended to visit CC Corp. Japan in the middle of next month’s audit. Dubbed the “Empress,” CyberConnect’s most powerful person, Veronica Bain, was the one VIP whose name frequently appeared in network and finance news. You didn’t get many chances to make her acquaintance, so her meeting with CC Corp. Japan’s employees became something of an amusing topic around the water-cooler.
When he had finished viewing all the information on the page, Ryuuji closed his Palm-PC and turned off the power to his portable terminal. For the time being, he decided he should tie up loose ends in the real world.
He’d save “The World” for last.
END OF CHAPTER