Chapter 23: A Voice From the Past

“In the lake, it turns to silence. All that remains is nothingness.”

Ryuuji looked at text displayed on the screen of his Palm PC.

He didn’t know why, but this unexpected message gave him a sense of unease that he couldn’t quite grasp, an unease like an annoying hangnail.

Who had written this? He first considered that the message might be from Yuri Seto who had mentioned Geist. But he couldn’t think of why Seto would place this message in this thread now.

Maybe it was an unrelated third party, or a lurker who viewed the thread out of interest or boredom. That felt like the more likely possibility. He tried thinking of other possibilities, but he drew a blank.

Ryuuji closed the bulletin board.

He’d seen enough. When faced with a problem that had no discernible answer, the easiest solution is to blame someone else. Ryuuji considered this post to be the work of Yuri Seto.

It was you who did all this, wasn’t it, you rat-bastard? Ryuuji thought this as pain intermittently coursed through his body.

It’s that bastard’s fault. He’ll get his payback.

Ryuuji worked on writing a report in the afternoon.

He devoted twice as much time as usual to it, then took a break when he arrived at a place where he would normally be done eight out of ten of his reports.

There was some time remaining before four o’clock.

He threw himself on the sofa, removed his glasses, and closed his eyes. Today, like yesterday, he was overworked. At least until David comes, he wanted to lay on the sofa and revel in laziness. His wish was not to come true. Just as he was about to doze off, his mobile terminal rang. It was a call from Lilie.

“Did I wake you up?” she asked.

“I was already awake,” Ryuuji replied cheerfully.

“What’s up?” he continued.

“Well, right now I’m on the main street, and there’s someone strange here,” said Lilie in a hushed tone.

She seemed to be blocking the mouthpiece with her hand.

“His name is David. He suddenly spoke to me, and said to bring him to our house because he’s an acquaintance of yours. Do you know him?” she said.

As Lilie asked this, Ryuuji could hear sneezing in the background.

“I do. Don’t worry, he’s, uh, not strange,” Ryuuji said.

“He’s someone I’m working with at the moment. We’re supposed to meet today. It’s okay, bring him here,” Ryuuji explained to Lilie.

“Really? Okay then,” said Lilie, her voice sounding suddenly relieved.

Before four o’clock, Lilie arrived home with David following close behind.

“Hello, Mr. Sogabe. I hope I’m not disturbing you,” David said with a radiant smile as he removed his sunglasses.

“I met Lilie on the way and recognized her face, so I asked her bring me here. She’s a very well-mannered young lady,” David continued.

Lilie went to the kitchen, blushing from the praise directed at her.

Ryuuji walked through the living room towards David.

David spoke as he looked around the room.

“You’ve really tidied up here. Excuse me for saying, but I had the impression it’d look like your office here…”

“It’s clean here thanks to Lilie,” said Ryuuji.

“Your little worker bee,” said David.

“No, she’s my boss,” said Ryuuji light-heartedly.

David tilted his head delicately at this answer.

“Quite the level-headed young lady,” he said, praising Lilie once more.

Lilie took out the tea set for two people, laid it out on a tray, setting it down in the living room, and David turned off his forced smile as if removing a mask.

“How’s your health?” he asked.

“I can’t say I’m feeling the greatest,” said Ryuuji.

“But, I’m fine. I could even do a tap dance,” Ryuuji added.

“Could you tell me about your encounter with Yuri Kazinsky Seto?” asked David.

Ryuuji relayed what he said on the phone this morning, this time adding more detail. He spoke of the ominous subject of the rats, which he had left unsaid before.

“In fact, he called out for them to retreat,” said David in a monotonous voice after he finished listening to the story.

“NAB headquarters abandoned keeping track of Seto on the Net side of things. With only a team of ten people on the case, we would’ve been beaten in an instant. From now on, rather than searching for him on the net, we’ll be focusing our efforts on investigating him in the real world. That means I have to return home and find Seto in the real world,” said David.

“So, you’re going home?” asked Ryuuji.

For some time David did not answer Ryuuji’s question.

“Seto hasn’t moved an inched out of the United States. He’s still hiding somewhere in the country. We’re sure of it,” David said as he faced Ryuuji directly.

Do you think there’s something strange about Seto’s activity, Mr. Sogabe?” asked David.

“How so?” asked Ryuuji.

“Why is Seto active not on a North American server, but on a Japanese server? It’s a confusing matter. Don’t you think it’s strange? If he purposefully unleashed the rats, the North American server would provide a much larger platform for the spread. And generally, it’s pretty simple to gain access to it from over there. The bastard has some reason for taking the time-consuming route of accessing the Japanese server, but what is it?” David explained.

Ryuuji shook his head.

“Hmmm, I have no idea,” he said.

“Based on my intuition, I feel that NAB will not be able to permanently capture Seto if they focus the investigation on just the real world,” said David.

“Why do you think that?” asked Ryuuji.

“It’s just a hunch I have,” remarked David.

“I thought that you of all people did not like to judge things based only on intuition,” said Ryuuji, causing David’s face to turn red for a moment before returning to its usual paleness.

David averted his gaze at these words, and sat still for a while, gazing out of a nearby window.

But, he reached out a unexpectedly took up his cup and drank his tea all at once.

“I’m not going back,” David said after taking a deep breath.

Image

“Damn his call to retreat. As long as I’m still here, it is my goal to see Gus and the others fully recover,” said David with a tone of determination.

“I do it for that reason, Mr. Sogabe. Your help is absolutely necessary. You were attacked by Seto yesterday. You survived the encounter, passed out and are now here, not having given up. You’re an expert on this matter, and we at NAB are not. It is quite a shame, really,” David said.

David took his mobile terminal from his jacket pocket.

“I believe that you are a mirror-like person,” David added.

“Well said. That’s a good way of putting it,” said Ryuuji with a nod.

“Do you mean to say that I sparkle?” Ryuuji added.

“No, not at all,” David denied the statement with a very straight face. He did not so much as smile.

“Fight force with force. Fight cheap tricks with cheap tricks. We truly cannot attain our goal unless we join forces with you,” said David.

David opened the voice memo app on his mobile terminal and, placing the terminal on the table, and immediately pointed it out to Ryuuji.

“I want you to listen to this audio file. Only a handful of people at NAB know about this If you listen to this file, you must swear to never mention this to anyone,” David said very seriously.

Ryuuji looked at David’s mobile terminal. It looked like an older model. It had been well-used as paint was chipped off of the corners. David spoke in a low serious voice and looked as though he were trying to conceal something.

“Somehow I don’t know about this. If it’s going to cause trouble for me to hear this, maybe it’s best to stop now,” Ryuuji said softly.

“But since you came prepared, I don’t think I can get you to change your mind,” Ryuuji continued.

“Listen to it,” David said plainly.

“As you listen, please think of this as an extension of a conversation,” David said as he tapped the screen with his index finger.

A heavy silence came down in the room. For a while there wasn’t even any sound coming from the mobile terminal.

However, the voice of a man came forth. Its tone was full of confidence, and could even be considered arrogant. It was faint, but there was a hint of a foreign accent. Ryuuji immediately knew who this voice belonged to.

“’…To start, in telling this story to you, I am committing a crime of divulging corporate secrets. If you do not wish to be my accomplice to this, I suggest you immediately discard this file.’”

Silence.

“’Splendid. So, I’ll cut to the chase. Last year, this is to say, 2020, an incident orchestrated by Jyotarou Amagi occurred in which a backup AI was put into action.’”

Silence.

“’At that time, it was an era of bliss, nestled in the bosom of the goddess Aura, a time in my career I will not soon forget. Vibrant electrons were charged within me and I appreciated all of my senses. Freed from the constraints of the real world, I realized in my ecstasy that I must surrender to the presence of the Mother. I realized that it was stupid to try and dominate the goddess with the Akashic Record.’”

Silence.

“’However, there were those who were still unaware of this.’”

Silence.

“’Unaware of their being dwarfed in comparison, these ignorant fellows tried to challenge the great Aura. They gathered up the fragments of the Akashic Record and tried to extract the goddess’ data. What this act meant, what it brought to this world, was something that they did not understand.’”

Silence.

“’I’m sorry to say that I am no longer qualified to be involved in this matter. As things stand now, in this regard, I can no longer get to the core of the issue. However, if you do it, it may be possible to avoid a catastrophe.’”

Silence.

“’This is not a request from the former Managing Director of CC Corp. Genius. Rather I want you to think of this as a request from the man Durga Fida Sharma.’”

Silence.

“’I beg of you. Please stop CC Corp.’s recklessness and the desecration of Aura’s name.’”

Silence.

The silence lasted a long time. Just when Ryuuji thought the message was over, there was another message. The voice spoke again.

“’Sogabe, I entrust this will to you.’”

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