The beginning of a beautiful week. How happy I am. Or so I tried to think. That didn’t go so well.
A call came in from David in the early afternoon.
“It’s all arranged,” he said.
“Impressive. That was quick,” said Ryuuji.
“Come over… here… please,” said David.
The voice suddenly seemed far away and two sneezes could be heard in succession.
“Excuse me, my nose gets irritated when it rains. It’s very bothersome.”
“That’s quite alright. I have something to ask you.”
As the rain fell, Ryuuji drove to Akasaka.
He headed through Hitotsugi-dori to a residential hotel where David was staying. It was a cheap hotel with a color that made it look as though it were a stack of stale bread. Ryuuji went through the reception hall and into the dining room.
David sat by a window eating a sandwich and sipping coffee as he stared blankly outside.
Ryuuji sat opposite David and a waitress arrived shortly thereafter. Ryuuji ordered a coffee.
“The United Nations people really know how to pick hotels,” Ryuuji said after the waitress had left.
“This is out of my own pocket. Headquarters doesn’t provide travel expenses,” David said with a scowl before removing some items in his hands from their vinyl packaging and placing them in front of Ryuuji.
“This is your payment. It was prepared in Akasaka,” said David.
A new mobile terminal was removed from the vinyl.
“I got the same one. Telephone numbers and emails have already been loaded on to them,” said David.
“Wow, I got a cyber-penpal,” said Ryuuji.
“Well, I had a feeling that something nice would happen this morning. It was this. I’m glad,” Ryuuji continued.
“Really? That’s great. I’m glad too,” said David gloomily, his face retaining the same default expression it always carried.
Two days before, Yuri Seto appeared immediately after Ryuuji logged into Mac Anu. This was also when the members of NAB were gathered in Dol Dona. The timing was too perfect to be a coincidence. In order to control events in The World for himself, Yuri Seto used the rats to build up a system for gathering information.
As he talked during important interactions within the game, Ryuuji could prevent Seto from eavesdropping. He had to crank his whisper mode up a notch.
“Well, my mail-friend’s life has become prosperous,” said David.
“Shall we discuss our future strategy?” he added.
Ryuuji nodded. “Life has become prosperous.” That’s a good expression. He liked it.
“I heard several things yesterday, so I want to outline a few points before I have any alcohol in my system,” continued David.
“Go ahead,” said Ryuuji.
“First, concerning the number of rats. When you fought Seto in Mac Anu, how many rats did you destroy?” David asked.
“Several hundred. Possibly upwards of a thousand. I don’t think it was much more than that though,” Ryuuji conjectured.
“Hmm. In spite of him saying that he’ll ‘unleash it unto the world,’ I don’t feel like he has enough to do that,” said David.
“He may be hiding many more from us. Actually, it could be propagating,” stated Ryuuji.
“Propagating?” asked David, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes. In the game it takes on the form of rats, but it is basically a computer virus,” said Ryuuji.
“So, there will be even more rats to come? The more time that passes, the worse off we are?” asked David.
“I can’t say anything as I haven’t investigated any of the PC bodies. I can’t give specifics, but it could be the case that they are propagating,” said Ryuuji.
Ryuuji remained silent for a moment.
“However, the virus may not continue to grow indefinitely. The Schicksal PCs are operated by humans. Mental strength is a driving force behind it, and there is always a limit to a human’s mental strength,” he added.
“Seto has produced rats with his inner strength. There may be over a thousand rats, but there has to be a limit. Do you understand what I’m saying?” asked David.
“Yes. To put it simply, it turned into a gas,” said Ryuuji.
David bit into his sandwich carefully, and wiped his mouth with a napkin.
“How far does his abilities extend? In an extreme case, could he also release the rats upon networks other than The World?” asked David.
Ryuuji shook his head.
“Schicksal PC capabilities are limited only to ‘The World’. For example, in Yodogawa’s case, I had installed The World on his mobile terminal. I think he was struck by the rats’ light from that,” said Ryuuji.
As a precaution, this morning Ryuuji had also picked up a mobile terminal from Lilie. She has The World installed on her mobile terminal, but she is no longer an avid user.
That may be enough for Seto Yuri to target those closest to Ryuuji.
Lilie applied countermeasures against the virus that recently appeared, so this explanation was entirely possible.
“However, he was hit with a special one-time ability, so in this instance the effect can last outside the game. Those who got attacked by the rats’ light either fall into a coma or develop a desire to commit suicide by jumping from high places,” said Ryuuji
This wasn’t limited to something special such as the Deadly Flash, and the same is true in a simple exchange of damage. Due to being bitten, Ryuuji suffered a lot for two days. This is, so to speak, an after-effect.
Of course, the damage Flugel caused to the left shoulder of Seto’s PC was more or less supposed to extend beyond the game as well. It’s not worth it otherwise.
“That’s the crucial part. How can we get rid of that effect?” asked David.
“It’ll need some time to pass. If the damage is normal, the person returns to their original state.” replied Ryuuji.
“However, if the symptoms are serious, they may not recover. In that case, others means would be necessary. It kills quickly and effectively by hitting the body directly. A Schicksal PC is attacked by another Schicksal PC and loses HP, then this ability disappears and is ‘cancelled,’” he added.
Ryuuji himself experienced being killed once before.
During the Immortal Dusk incident of three years ago, his research assistant Nomura Kaname stabbed Ryuuji from behind with a knife of his Schicksal PC Metronom. At that time, the real-life Ryuuji felt such severe pain as though his right kidney had been ripped right from his body. His heart had raced, his blood pressure decreased, his skin went pale, his breathing became erratic, and at that moment Ryuuji realized the symptoms of shock. He then fainted and was hospitalized.
Then, somehow Ryuuji was able to recover, and Metronom killed the illusionist Geist because the knife’s effect had not worked.
“I got it. Well, last but not least…” said David.
When David was about to speak, the waitress came with Ryuuji’s coffee.
Ryuuji said thanks and took a sip of the black coffee.
“…Here’s my plan for defeating him,” David said as the waitress left.
The coffee was acceptable. Not too hot, not too cold, not too strong, not too weak, but this didn’t mean that it was well-balanced either. A mediocre taste. Ryuuji felt it on his tongue. His sense of taste was returning. He was still recovering from the damage done to him by Seto.
“Not bad,” said Ryuuji.
“That’s usually true of coffee,” David quipped.
David rubbed his hands to remove the bread crumbs.
“But not of this sandwich. The bread is flakey, and the ham is as thin as paper. You were saying?” David added.
“I caught one of Seto’s rats,” said Ryuuji as he removed a sugar cube from the sugar pot.
“Just before fighting with him in Mac Anu, I got shot with Brieler Roessle and became frozen. However, I was able to use my hand to modify one of the little rats. Incidentally, I added GPS functionality to follow its movements and locate its position. So, then when the pack of rats is attacked, they will disperse in confusion and leave Seto,” said Ryuuji.
As he spoke he dropped a sugar cube in his coffee.
“Then, when asked to be guided to the body’s whereabouts, we launch a surprise attack from here,” Ryuuji concluded.
“Do you suspect something?” asked David.
“Though I don’t believe in hunches, I think I have a hunch. However, I think it has a good chance of working. I speculated that, based on the information obtained from my prevous encounter, Seto Yuri uses to different methods to move the rats. First, he operates them through his own will. I encountered this in the Pet Shop Chims. At that time, the rat acted as Seto’s eyes and he spoke through it,” said Ryuuji.
“So he did it… I see,” David said in surprise.
“In this case, it seems that Seto can only control a small number of rats. I think his limit is about ten rats at most,” Ryuuji said as he remembered the time when Seto used the rats as decoys to escape.
“One more thing, they’re operating with a simple AI. When he says ‘go bash’ or ‘protect my life’ gives a rough indication. The rats can’t do precise operations, but can do a lot of damage in a group. When we fought in the alley in Mac Anu, and they got hit with steam from the steam trap, the rats died off rather easily. Until Seto changed the instructions, they couldn’t respond to such an irregular attack,” Ryuuji added.
Ryuuji paused for a moment.
“In other words, no matter what way he controls them, there’s a way to slip in among them, like a ‘Trojan Rat,’” he said.
David let out a big sneeze and sprayed nasal drops into his nose. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, kept still for a moment, exhaled, opened his eyes and looked at Ryuuji.
“The current strategy calls for a little guesswork and luck,” David said.
“The main problem is when to release the rat. It’s no use for us to wait to be attacked first. We need to strike while the iron is hot,” David continued.
“Also, if the rats come as we predict, we could safely release the Trojan Rat. Then, how do we get past the other rats?” David finished.
“We’ll act depending on the situation and use resources as needed,” he said.
“It’s the perfect plan,” David said with an exaggerated sigh.
“Peace and prosperity will be brought about by this perfect plan,” Ryuuji said.
At that moment, Ryuuji’s new mobile terminal rang. The call was from Veronica Bain.
“Are you coming?” she said suddenly.
Ryuuji looked at the store clock. It was two o’clock in the afternoon.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“No, Ryuuji, but I have an important story,” she said.
“Like I said before, I have a story to tell you. See you at three o’clock, okay?” she said.
The phone hung up before Ryuuji could reply.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m promised someone a date,” Ryuuji said to David.
“A date? Like, a person to take out and talk with?” asked David.
Ryuuji waved his hands in front of him without saying anything. Matters relating to clients are not confided to David. Adherence to confidentiality. That is the way of the consultant.
“You don’t know the person, but she sounded like she was chewing your head off. But you don’t know her,” David said in reply to Ryuuji’s gesture.
“Were you listening?” asked Ryuuji.
“Weren’t you going to tell me?” asked David.
“No,” said Ryuuji bluntly.
“Well then, that’s silly,” said David with a chortle.
“Okay, let’s get to the ‘Trojan Rat’ The confined space worries me, but I don’t think it should be a problem. When should we do this?” said David, changing the subject.
“Right. Six o’clock this evening,” said Ryuuji.
“Location?” asked David.
“Let’s meet at the cafe in Mac Anu,” confirmed Ryuuji.
Ryuuji finished his coffee, took his documents, and stood up.
“After that, we’ll lure him out into a deserted area,” added Ryuuji.
“Copy that. I’ll prepare some top-notch cheeses and wait for you,” said David with a nod, before sneezing loudly.