Suddenly the chime rang.
Ryuuji put the VR-Scanner away in his desk drawer. Then he filled a glass with one quarter Taplow’s and the rest with mineral water from the refrigerator, making a thin whiskey.
The chime rang three more times.
Ryuuji took the glass, sat down on the lounge suite sofa, and unlocked the door with a remote key.
“Come in, the door is unlocked,” he said with a carrying voice.
The door opened. There were two visitors. They were both Caucasian men, and both were dressed in black suits. They looked around the office with discerning eyes, and then stared at Ryuuji as he sat on the sofa.
Suddenly, the shorter of the two grinned and laughed.
“You must be Mr. Sogabe,” he said in the Kansai dialect, exactly as had been heard in the game.
“I am David Steinberg, also known as Kusame. Excuse me for coming at such a late hour.”
“Don’t worry about it. You seem different from what I expected based on your character. Are you perhaps… an American?” said Ryuuji.
“Indeed I am,” David replied while smiling at Ryuuji sitting in the chair.
“You seem similar to your character Flugel, Mr. Sogabe. Not just in appearance, but in demeanour too. It is a clever reproduction. The Japanese have a great sense for such things.”
“No, no, not at all…” he said while laughing softly.
“May we come in?”
The taller man looked as though he was growing impatient. He spoke in English.
Sogabe leaned back and looked up at him.
“May we come in?”
He repeated the question, but this time in slow standard Japanese.
“Is this about work?” said Ryuuji.
“I’m very sorry, but if this is not about my work, then I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Wow. Would you look at the time!”
“We’re from NAB. We would like your cooperation in matters related to the network.”
Ryuuji placed his glass on the table and stood in front of the two people standing at his door.
“Do you have identification?”
The taller man produced a leather case. Ryuuji took it and looked at it. It was a national identity card issued by the Japanese branch. Gus Fox. Washington, D.C. Member of Head Office.
“Would you like to see mine?” said the man who had introduced himself as David.
“No, that’s alright. Come in.”
Ryuuji returned the ID card as the two people came closer.
They sat facing each other from across the table and Ryuuji pushed his glass to the side.
“I like to have a drink before I go to bed. Would you like one?”
“That’s okay. It’s already very late. Let’s get down to business immediately,” said Gus.
“Indeed,” said Ryuuji with a yawn.
Gus ignored Ryuuji’s yawn.
“We are tracking Yuri Kazinsky Seto. We hope to find his whereabouts and would like your cooperation.”
Ryuuji closed his mouth.
“A few days ago you came into contact with CC Corp.’s Veronica Bain. We came to Japan to follow her. We staked out the Baketon Hotel and noticed you. You spoke with her about Seto, didn’t you? Also, you went to the house of the Japanese branch director, Mr. Yodogawa, and recovered his mobile terminal. I want to talk about these things in detail.”
Ryuuji took his glass in hand and put it to his mouth. However, he did not actually drink his watered-down whiskey. He merely applied his lips to the rim of the glass. After thinking for a moment, he placed the glass back on the table.
“This so-called NAB, is it short on talented people? Such horrible tailing techniques are rare these days.”
“The man that followed you was hired as a part-time worker with the Akasaka Branch. He received no formal training. Perhaps we should have been tailing you, but white people stand out so much in this country. So, will you accept?
Gus and David both looked at him.
“Why?” asked Gus.
“I cannot afford to discuss the affairs of my clients.”
“We are NAB.”
“It seems that way.”
“Why won’t you work with us?”
“Because, I must maintain integrity in this business. Do you think I would last long in this line of work if I just started blabbing all the information I had on my clients’ cases?”
“This is not a talk of that level.. We plan to keep going to determine Seto’s whereabouts as soon as possible. If you work with us, we can of course pay you. I can promise it will be a fair amount.”
Ryuuji laughed weakly.
“This is not that sort of talk.”
Gus’ face reddened.
“A witty guy, aren’t you?” he muttered in English.
He had a mild intonation, and a flat pronunciation. He sounded like he might be from Chicago.
“Huh? What did he just say?”
Ryuuji was heard again.
“I said you are a unique man,” Gus repeated in Japanese.
“NAB is not the police. Your job is simply to monitor the network. You have neither the right to investigate, nor the right to arrest. You intruded into the place of a good free-trader in the middle of the night and could not even force him to cooperate.”
“You can be stripped of your license to instruct at Akasaka.”
“Isn’t that just a fad?”
“To be threatened like that these days.”
David was silent until a sneeze found its way out. He took a plastic container out and placed it against his nose, squeezed the liquid medicine into his nose and breathed deeply, then turned his body towards Ryuuji.
“Now now, now now. This sort of encounter is unfortunate. Shall we start over?”
Ryuuji looked at David. When he passed by the entrance, he let a smile cross his lips. But it was not a smile. It was an expression that looked somewhat like a smile.
This is rather troublesome, thought Ryuuji.
“Please forgive his impatient attitude. But, it’s mostly just talk. We don’t have much time. That’s why we had to disturb you in the middle of the night,” continued David.
“We, that is my colleague and I, and you are in a position to be able to exchange cards with each other on an equal basis. Ah, wait. I should speak honestly. Your reputation is probably very mighty. We want you to help us in our dealings.”
“Ah, then, you should have asked,” said Ryuuji.
Yuri Kazinsky Seto was hired by CC Corp San Diego――according to the source――and lived in a high-rise apartment in the city centre. It was in a new apartment prepared for him by the San Diego company. The residents were mainly white-collar workers. It was a typical apartment in that part of San Diego.
Before Seto disappeared, seven instances of death by jumping occurred at that apartment. The seven who committed suicide were company employees in their late twenties to early forties. One of them was a woman.
“You have no proof. Of what we know, Seto has made a new computer virus, and we think he’s “testing” it out. A virus more atrocious than ‘Deadly Flash.’”
“There is no evidence? Is that what you’re saying?” Ryuuji asked.
“We have thoroughly checked the computer and mobile devices of the deceased,” said Gus.
“However, I was not able to find any trace of evidence. Even after being infected by a virus, it had not been hacked from the outside.”
Ryuuji was reminded of Mr. Yodogawa. He remembered the sight of Mr. Yodogawa’s body lying on the road.
“From what I’ve heard of the story so far, it seems like the sort of thing that should be left to the police. They have the means, if it turns out to be a murder rather than a suicide. I don’t know why you two NAB members bothered to intrude.”
David opened his mouth, but hesitated for a moment.
“This is becoming a political conversation.”
“Wait, David. There’s no need to tell me,” said Gus in English while blocking his partner.
“I can’t proceed without showing your hand,” David replied in English.
“However, it’s a serious matter involving a presidential election. This man had been hired by the ‘Empress’ no less. The information could leak out completely.”
A presidential election. Ryuuji did not so much as blink as he had been expecting it. David suddenly looked at Ryuuji.
“Gus. Don’t say anything else,” he said quietly.
“I’ll just have to pretend not to know the words I need to say.”
Gus looked at David’s face which was blinking heavily in surprise. David looked at Ryuuji’s face. Gus turned his gaze to Ryuuji, then to David, then back to Ryuuji. This time he kept watch.
Ryuuji broke the tension and spoke in English.
“Well! It’s better to keep things like that since I save money…”
Gus’ face turned red. He fell silent and said no more.
“Do you have any knowledge of the implant chips?” said David, returning to the Kansai dialect as though nothing had happened.
“As much as anyone else.”
“That’s sufficient. Ah, certainly in this country… Aomori was a data-processing ward.”
The implant chip is known as the Biological IC Chip. Chip that are different in many countries are standardized to the specifications of ALTIMIT Corp. Over the past year, there was strong opposition to it growing across the world, especially in developed countries, but at the end of last year, in several countries including Japan, trouble with the flow of vast amounts of information had been discovered and a popular movement began over the frustrations with this.
“In our country, surgery to embed an IC Chip in recently released convicts had been mandated, but that was cancelled two years ago. NAB was opposed to the implant chip. The world would not be so welcoming to a negative flow of implant chips. But, thanks to you, problems arose.”
David looked up with a sigh.
“In other words, Yuri Kazinsky Seto doesn’t have an IC Chip. We won’t be able to use it to determine his whereabouts.”
“Ah, that’s true,” said Ryuuji.
“Are you saying that if Seto is guilty of something, the proponents of the IC Chip would appear again?”
“NAB’s position on the matter has become very difficult for us. Therefore, we have to find Seto’s whereabouts in absolute secrecy, since I don’t want to be placed under surveillance anytime soon. He could pose a problem around children. No, I should be more precise. He could pose a problem if this comes to light, or…”
“What do you need?”
“Mr. Sogabe, you should examine our methods regarding this matter. I want to share in this information. Also, I heard that the part of the program that Seto has belongs to CC Corp. You will act as our guru, Mr. Sogabe. I’d appreciate it if you could advise us on how to corner him inside the game. In exchange, we will be allowed to be backed up fully by the powers of the organization. If you tell me what the request is, Mr. Sogabe, we can give you our full support. So, what do you say?”
“As I said from the beginning, I cannot reveal the client, nor can I talk about the details of the request,” said Ryuuji.
While something like a smile stuck on David’s lips, he looked at Ryuuji patiently.
“Well, there are no problems in any other areas. All is well. Let’s work together.”
The request that Ryuuji had received from Veronica Bain was that “the sensitive data that Yuri Kazinsky Seto stole from CC Corp is to be recovered.” The person that was once said to be a hacker should be placed under surveillance or caught.
Ryuuji revealed all except the most private details of the encounter that he felt his present company should know, including Veronica Bain’s name.
“I see, a pet shop that sells illegal mascot characters. That’s certainly suspicious.”
Gus nodded while putting memos on his mobile terminal.
“Shake off investigator decoy in Dol Dona and wait for contact.”
“We can’t look unnatural or wander aimlessly, as we may look suspicious.”
Gus glanced at Ryuuji.
“We also have something called segregation. I’ll listen when you think I need advice.”
“Now now. Please leave those things to the organization. Don’t you have anything else to talk about? Don’t question it.”
Ryuuji shook his head at David’s words.
“Didn’t you hear what came out of Gus’ mouth?”
“Did he say something?”
On David’s face the ripples of a real smile began to spread.
“Then, I didn’t hear it.”
After waiting for Gus to put away the mobile terminal, David stood up with a clap on his knee.
“All dealings have been recorded. I’ll inform you when progress has been made. Well, that should be all…”
The late-night visitors left.
Ryuuji locked the door and took a sip from his watered-down Taplow’s, which had lost its strength. He toasted to the forming of a wonderful new relationship.
He was informed by a “Pet Shop Chims” contact from David Steinberg that someone had entered two days later.