It was Saturday, two days after the encounter with the rat.
It was a pleasant morning. Outside the window it was sunny. With no cumbersome work to do, it was a day on which one could enjoy the beauty of life. He thought that it would be nice to drink whiskey while teasing the stray cat that lies on a bench in the park. But Ryuuji had cumbersome work to do. There was no time for playing with a cat.
Perched on the bed in his bedroom, he made a call to the number he had acquired. He waited a while to give his name to the receptionist. Soon Veronica Bain’s hoarse voice could be heard.
“Ryuuji, I read through the report.”
“I felt it best to convey this verbally. There are some developments,” said Ryuuji.
He relayed what happened at “Pet Shop Chims.” He had previously reported the details on David and the others.
Ryuuji finished speaking and heard a long sigh on the other end of the phone. He wondered if she was blowing smoke out of her pipe. The rich sweet breath felt as though it was coming through the phone.
“Seto had the power to use the rat in the game,” said Veronica.
“Perhaps,” said Ryuuji.
“The rat sacrificed itself and gave off the ‘Deadly Flash’?” she asked.
“Ah, well, no, that’s not quite right. The light from the rat wasn’t really the Deadly Flash. It’s much worse than that. It seemed to have an effect on those who saw it, such as implanting into the mind a desire to commit suicide by jumping. I don’t know for what purpose,” Ryuuji explained.
“What happened to the NAB investigator that was struck by the light?”
“He’s been hospitalized in Tokyo since yesterday. So far, it seems they haven’t found any abnormalities,” he said.
“That’s good news,” said Veronica Bain in a sincere tone.
“Also, Travis Bond, the Los Angeles-based hacker is alive. The apartment that he lived in was a two-storey building and he was fortunate in that he landed on a car that was parked in the lot below. His right leg took most of the impact when he hit the windscreen, but he did not sustain any injury.”
“What are you trying to say about him?”
“I haven’t heard any talk of it,” replied Ryuuji.
“He’s in a state of unconsciousness. Even though there was hardly any trauma,” added Ryuuji.
There was silence for a while. A long sigh.
“Such a bad effect. I wonder whether the depressed hacker would have known about it,” said Veronica.
“Is it possible to temporarily shut down the Japanese servers of ‘The World’?” Ryuuji asked tentatively.
“Ah, why?” asked Veronica. She sounded very surprised.
“While other people are too distant, there are those that can be harmed by accessing the game. Then they’ll become victims. Without doubt that number will continue to grow,” said Ryuuji.
As he spoke, Ryuuji remembered the eyes of the rat. Just before it exploded. At that time, Ryuuji had looked into the depths of the rat’s eyes through Flugel. He glimpsed into the “eyes” of Yuri Seto himself on the other side. There was pure malice in them. What did Seto do after that? What brought it about? He was clearly aware. He acted of his own free will. Upon realizing everything, he used the rat for his own aims. Ryuuji thought this to be the case.
“Speaking from the viewpoint of the company, if you stop the operation of an online game such as ‘The World,’ how much damage do you think will occur each day?” Veronica asked.
“We can at least prevent the damage from the rat,” said Ryuuji.
“In the Japanese server. But if that were the case, couldn’t Seto just move to another server. Will he even stop there? And if he moved to yet another place? Will we stop him from going from one place to the next? That could be impossible,” said Veronica.
She had reason to believe that this was the most likely answer.
“Ryuuji, I have hired you specifically to avoid a situation such as this,” she said.
“I’m happy to be entrusted with the work,” said Ryuuji.
He heard a chuckle.
“What about NAB?” asked Veronica, changing the topic.
“Oh, yes, that’s right. I think I can trust that our interests are the same. However, it may be dangerous excuse the mind completely.”
“On what terms do you base this?”
“I don’t know why the people at NAB Headquarters are moving. It is unnatural for so many of them to come to Japan. The Akasaka branch is in Japan. Activity in this country is best left to the Akasaka branch investigators.”
“In other words? They have ulterior motives?”
“I don’t know about that, but I think they’re hiding something. Speaking of which, they said that they’d been following you first. Did you have any idea?”
“Only too well,” said Veronica without hesitation.
“I see, but there are many advantages to cooperating with them. It cannot continue like this.”
“If I hire someone, I won’t be giving that person orders. I’ll leave that to you,” said Veronica. Then she muttered to herself as though she were alone.
“NAB and CyberConnect. One side monitoring the other. Two irreconcilable presences that will happily join hands. Don’t you find this to be an interesting situation?” she said.
“It has a certain literary quality to it,” Ryuuji answered blandly. That’s not to say that he was not himself a man of CyberConnect.
“I received new clues about Seto, so please come see me. Let me hear your reports directly from you,” said Veronica.
Veronica exhaled slowly.
“Also, I want to talk about literary things,” she said.
The phone went dead.
“That’s just lovely,” Ryuuji said at the mobile terminal.
In the kitchen, Lilie prepared a lunch wearing an apron over her sailor school uniform. There was some sort of event at school later that afternoon. Ryuuji was about to walk towards the living room when he suddenly stopped.
Lilie was standing in front of the sink at the back of the room. She was humming while cutting something with the kitchen knife.
Ryuuji stared fixedly and, seemingly taking notice, Lilie looked up.
“What?” she said.
“Uh,” mumbled Ryuuji as he pointed at the cutting board.
“It looks pretty delicious. A midday sandwich?” he asked.
“A bagel sandwich. I bought some rye bread bagels from a baker at the entrance to the mall. I can rarely afford to buy from him because he’s so well-known. He baked them himself,” said Lilie with a look of pride.
Ten minutes later, babel sandwiches, salads, and miso soup lay on the table. At Ryuuji’s home, miso soup always appeared on the menu.
Ryuuji and Lilie sat across from each other.
“I did a nice job, look,” she said.
Lilie lifted the bagels to show Ryuuji how she had cut the bagels lengthwise.
“They look beautiful from here. Hehe,” chuckled Ryuuji.
Ryuuji took a bagel sandwich in hand.
Ingredients such as dried tomatoes, salmon, cream cheese, and sliced onions were jammed between the bagel slices.
“Yummy. I even got them crispy,” Lilie exclaimed.
“You did. This is delicious,” said Ryuuji.
However, in reality, Ryuuji did not really like the taste of the food.
His right cheek stung. He still felt the lingering pain as though a needle had been stuck in all the places that the Data Bug at the Pet Shop Chims had hit. There was a sensation on his tongue like a stinging thorn. His sense of taste was not working quite right. It was one of the mild symptoms he experienced when he received viral damage that was fed back into the real world during a Schicksal PC operation.
He would have had no difficulty attaining that amount of attack speed if Ryuuji was still at CC Corp. Ryuuji’s own skills in controlling Flugel with the VR-Scanner had declined. Three years out of the business had been very difficult.
“By the way, because you’re a girl, you should stop laughing like ‘teheehee,’ said Ryuuji.
“What? I don’t laugh like that,” she said.
“You laughed like that just now,” said Ryuuji.
“I don’t laugh in such a weird way,” insisted Lilie.
“I’m not like you, Ryuuji,” she added.
“Ahh, I see,” he said.
Ryuuji finished eating half of his bagel, and drank some miso soup.
“I heard that Nene passed the primary entrance exam to the National Ballet,” Lilie said suddenly.
“Ohhh, I didn’t hear. She’s off to a great start,” said Ryuuji.
“I wanted to thank you, Ryuuji,” she said.
“When we go there, I’ll teach you all the lingo of the place.”
Nene Koharu was a girl who had worked at CC Corp. with Ryuuji and Lilie before. Before that, she was a psychiatric patient of Ryuuji’s.
After her work had been completed at CC Corp., Nene took an exam to study at the National Ballet Academy in Hamburg, Germany. She was an expert ballet dancer in the making with a promising future in various competitions until the onset of a psychiatric disorder.
Half a year later, Ryuuji begged her to take lessons in the German language. The German language would allow her to attend classes at the Academy since it was listed as one of the requirements for admission.
Consequently, Nene was able to successfully enroll at the Academy.
Lilie had become attached to her and frequently kept in contact via Internet phone and letters. Ryuuji was able to learn of Nene’s status from Lilie. He had heard that the ballet rookie’s stage-time had been greatly reduced compared to previous years due to the aftermath of this year’s recession.
Her first success was happy news before things went downhill.
Ryuuji believed that Nene would succeed.
Ryuuji saw Nene’s struggle first-hand. He knew how much training was needed to make a comeback as a dancer. You needed to have talent, the ability to withstand adversity, and to never give up to be a happy and successful person.
Lilie spoke while looking at the cup in her hand.
“Hey, Ryuuji, I—,” she said.
At that moment, Ryuuji’s breast-pocket trembled. He raised his hand to Lilie and took out his mobile terminal.
It was a call from David.
“Hello Mr. Sogabe. Do you have a moment?” David asked.
Ryuuji picked up the mobile terminal and turned away from Lilie. There was an unnatural firmness in David’s tone. He had a sudden bad feeling.
“Yes, I have a moment. What is it?” asked Ryuuji.
“There’s news from the hospital. Gus has fallen into a coma,” said David.
Suddenly it felt as though the temperature had dropped.
Ryuuji stood up, left the kitchen, went through the living room, went into his bedroom and closed the door.
“Did he jump from something?” asked Ryuuji.
“No. That was not issued by the hospital. According to the nurses, he thought he was falling and suddenly went berserk in the room. When they tried to restrain him, he lost consciousness,” said David.
David took a deep breath to calm his mind.
“I’m going to the hospital now. I want you to come if you can, Mr. Sogabe. The symptoms and scan data may require a professional opinion,” said David.
“Understood. I’ll leave right away,” Ryuuji said.
Ryuuji turned off the mobile terminal, quickly got dressed into a suit and went back to the kitchen.
“Sorry, I’ve got work. I’ll leave the clean up to you. I’ll eat later,” said Ryuuji.
Lilie drank a sip of milk with a nod.
Ryuuji stopped at the entrance and looked back.
“Ah, were you going to say something earlier?” asked Ryuuji.
Lilie shook her head.
“It’s not a big deal. Take care. I’ll make sure to put the bagels in the fridge,” she said.