The Baketon, Japan’s leading high-luxury hotel.
He walked while contemplating the route that lead to Kokura, and he soon arrived in front of the penthouse suite where a bodyguard was waiting.
This man makes for a good landmark.
“Hey, Henry. Doing well?” Ryuuji said with a smile and a laugh as the man ignored Ryuuji’s words and started to give him a security-frisking.
“Oh, yeah. That’s right. I forgot about this,” muttered Ryuuji.
The bodyguard’s rugged hands snapped off the second button from Ryuuji’s shirt.
“It’s your job to pluck buttons off of people, isn’t it, Henry?” asked Ryuuji.
“No voice recorders,” Henry said, and he waved his hand at Ryuuji, signalling him to follow.
Ryuuji thought they were entering Veronica’s room, but realized he was wrong when he got halfway inside.
They soon arrived at a black door. It looked like it belonged to a cocktail bar for use by the guest of honor as a suite room.
The bodyguard Henry looked at Ryuuji, opened the door and jerked his chin.
“Oh, sorry…,” Ryuuji said quietly as he slipped past Henry.
“Aren’t you coming, Henry?” Ryuuji asked.
“Go,” said Henry.
Ryuuji nodded and went into the room.
The interior was dimly lit. There was a counter on one side of the room and a petite grey-haired bartender stood behind it wiping a glass. In the corner was installed a high-performance JBL Hartsfield softly playing jazz saxophone. It was the song “Gloomy Sunday.”
On the other side of the room sat Veronica Bain in a box seat.
Her skin was pale in the gentle light and her lipstick-covered lips stood out vividly on her face. Due to this, her smile was clear to see.
On the table was an empty glass.
There were no other guests.
“It’s good to see you, Ryuuji,” said Veronica as she pointed at the seat opposite her.
“Likewise, Ms. Bain. I should be the one saying that,” said Ryuuji as he took a seat.
The bartender approached.
“Give me the usual. What would you like?” she asked Ryuuji.
“I drove here actually. I’ll have a milkshake, please.”
The bartender nodded, then set down Veronica’s glass.
“So you fought Yuri Kazinsky Seto’s PC,” said Veronica.
“I read some of the report and it seems to me like Flugel doesn’t have much of a chance,” she said.
Since it didn’t seem to be a question, Ryuuji remained silent.
“How’s the wound?”
Since it was a question, it was answered.
“It recovered fairly well. Enough so that I can respond to clients’ calls anyway,” he said.
“I see. That’s good.”
The bartender came carrying drinks. He put a milkshake in front of Ryuuji and a glass filled with a red liquid in front of Veronica.
“This Virgin Mary at this place is absolutely delicious,” she added.
Veronica raised her glass towards Ryuuji.
“To your health…” said Ryuuji.
“To both our health…”
A toast between non-alcoholic beverages. Ryuuji held some of the cold sweet liquid in his mouth. It was high quality stuff. Ryuuji received a direct hit of a taste of luxury that caused his tongue, which was used to cheap coffee, to convulse.
“There were reports that the Japanese debugging team had fallen into comas,” said Veronica.
“Last night at twenty-five past eight in the evening, the PC of Seto pretending to be a system administrator entered the workplace of the debugging team and attacked their operation. Everyone was put into a coma save for one person.”
Ryuuji put down the glass and looked at Veronica.
“Was this debugging team called the ‘Cobalt Knights?’” he asked.
“I’ve heard of a team with such a name,” she responded.
“Were they flooded by ‘light?’”
“No. It seems they were engulfed by a horde of rats.”
Ryuuji closed his eyes. He had felt possessed by the rats and the thought of having experienced it even just once gave him goosebumps.
But at that moment a question crossed Ryuuji’s mind.
“But, that’s strange, isn’t it?”
“What is?” she asked.
After saying this, Veronica took out her red mobile terminal. It steadily vibrated, she pressed a button on the terminal and pressed it to her cheek.
“I’m having an important conversation right now. Please call back later.”
Veronica put the mobile terminal on the table and looked at Ryuuji.
“Ryuuji, what’s strange?”
“I don’t know if you know, but the Japanese CC Corp’s Cobalt Knights are not merely debuggers,” said Ryuuji.
“They are the specialists on how to handle non-specification entities. All of them have high-level combat skills, and they work day and night to eliminate any threats to the stability of the Japanese servers. There are too many dangerous enemies for them to waste time,” he explained.
The Divine Spear of Wotan was scarier than anything else. A sacred treasure bestowed upon the Knights by the old goddess Morganna Mode Gone. It would be utterly regrettable if a Schicksal PC were to strike a blow with it.
Indeed, if the Seto’s rats have abilities, the Knights would likely owe their victory to their large numbers. But, out of a dozen tries, they might have to lose twice before turning things around. If the spear were suddenly stolen, the tables would turn for whoever held it.
Beautiful wrinkles between Veronica’s eyebrows quickly appeared and then disappeared.
“There was a specific reason for Seto to take the risk and attack the Cobalt Knights. Care to say what it is?”
“I met with the guy and we had a talk,” said Ryuuji.
“Except for the underlying principle of the action being crazy, I got the impression that he was very calm and logical. I got the impression that he’s acting to eliminate the Knights and I don’t think it’s entirely in my head. I believe there is some sort of reason for him to do so,” he continued.
Ryuuji continued after a brief pause.
“With the exception of one person, who I spoke with. Do you know who this person is?”
“He’s a rookie who’s just been assigned. Since he logged out before Seto appeared, he escaped the disaster,” Veronica said.
“I want to hear the story from him.”
“Is it important? Does it not finish with the words ‘Yuri Kazinsky is extraordinary’?” she asked.
“He is a source of annoyance,” said Ryuuji before he drank another sip of his milkshake. It still tasted amazing.
“I never know what is is or is not important. What bothers me is that we have no choice but to use brute force,” he added.
“That’s okay. You should arrange to meet with the debuggers,” she said.
“Do that and we’ll survive.”
“Another thing, there’s a story that will help. Your report was sent to San Diego and deliberated by the board of directors. Consequently, with respect to the rat extermination, they decided to bring in reinforcements.”
“The Sophia Squad is coming,” said Veronica.
“I think your burden will be mitigated significantly.”
“This is true. Absolutely,” Ryuuji said with a nod.
“But I want to confirm one thing, what is the Sophia Squad?” he asked.
“You don’t know Sophia? It was sold as a download in Japan long ago.”
Ryuuji understood what Veronica was talking about in her way of speaking.
The trademarked “Sophia System Security,” also known as the SSS Version. It is an anti-virus software that started being sold two years ago.
“I don’t think it possible that a commercially available anti-virus software was circulated to Yuri Seto’s rats…”
“This Sophia is a little different from the Sophia Squad in general circulation. The Sophia Squad is not automated, but is operated by qualified players. In this respect, one could say they are similar to you and Seto’s Schicksal PC.”
Veronica picked up her red mobile terminal and operated it with expert precision.
“They have state-of-the-art anti-virus abilities, and when it comes to fighting a virus, they’re probably invincible. You’ve got to see them in person to fully understand them.”
The mobile terminal in Ryuuji’s pocket issued a mail ringtone.
“A guest-key was just sent. The guild’s name is ALGOS. If you meet the Sophia Squad, please show it to them.”
After she spoke, Veronica put the mobile terminal in the inside pocket of her suit.
“I made it instead of an ID card. When will you log-in next?”
“I’m scheduled to enter from Mac Anu at six o’clock tonight.”
“Well, let’s communicate that way.”
Ryuuji shook his head and picked up his milkshake.
“Oh my. If there were such a great secret weapon, I would have wanted you to give up. Perhaps you wouldn’t have tap danced with the rats.”
“It’s still in the experimental stages. Besides, we’re having trouble with the operator’s personality.”
Veronica said without hesitation.
“We’ve taken more time and effort than expected to persuade him. But, in any case, eventually we agreed to a deal by revoking our compliant against him.”
Ryuuji tried to bring the glass to his mouth while listening to Veronica, but changed his mind and returned it to the table.
“I don’t really understand. Perhaps I didn’t drink enough coffee this morning, or this delicious milkshake has put me in a dream-state. Just now, I thought I heard some troubling words.”
“The Sophia Squad’s pilot is a cracker. The same as Seto.”
Ryuuji didn’t say another word.
“He managed to hack into the San Diego branch in the spring of this year. The security department, which had become very sensitive with Seto’s electronic files, immediately identified the hacking location with a reverse hack, and the cracker was taken into custody by the police. So, his hacking abilities were not that big a deal. However, he showed a stunning aptitude for controlling the Sophia Squad. So I approached with a deal.”
“The test was carried out on a human in prison?”
“There is speculation that CyberConnect has these sorts of connections.”
Ryuuji nodded slightly.
“Your company’s personnel search has been overwhelming.”
“Ability takes precedence over everything. That’s an ironclad rule.”
The jazz saxophone music ended. For that brief moment, the shop was filled with silence. Behind the counter, the bartender could be heard gently wiping a tumbler.
Veronica leaned her face in towards Ryuuji and whispered. Her breath had a sweet fragrance of tobacco even though she was not smoking a pipe.
“Let’s get down to business.”
“That was not the main topic?”
“Here’s the story. I re-examined your profile. Ryuuji Sogabe; not a Network Trouble Consultant, but a psychiatrist and developer of medical technologies, as well as a expert on Real Digitalize.”
Hartsfield began to sing lower in Damia’s* voice.
“My interest grew as I learned more. Why did you quit CyberConnect Japan?”
“I couldn’t give up on my dream of becoming a baseball player.”
Ryuuji smiled coyly.
“And it was my last chance due to my age.”
“Granted that is an eccentric reason.”
Veronica gave a cold smile.
“I was surprised that CyberConnect Japan let go a unique employee such as you. What are you going to do now?”
“I don’t understand what you mean.”
“What will you do after the matter of Seto is finished. Don’t tell me, you’re not going to continue your mock detective work after this, are you?”
“Oh, I see. Honestly, I am thinking of starting a business. Maybe I’ll open a trendy cafe in Aoyama and make some decent money.”
“You should return to researching Real Digitalize. Someone such as yourself should never give up research.”
Veronica looked into Ryuuji’s eyes.
“Would you be willing to work at the San Diego branch?”
Ryuuji was slightly taken aback.
“What a surprise. Are you intending to replace Yuri Seto?”
“I have to do what’s best for the company. If that means firing someone, then I’ll fire someone. If that means making a deal, then I’ll make a deal. And if I have to poach an employee, I won’t hesitate to poach.”
“That’s a great management philosophy.”
“I worked with Harald,” Veronica said.
“The creator of The World, Harald Hoerwick, I mean. Around the time CC Corp. San Diego was established, he presented ‘fragment’ to us with a referral from ALTIMIT Corp. I adopted the project and a couple of weeks later, we were working side by side. I did this in order to take ‘fragment’ from him. I was rather arrogant as a programmer at the time. I was proud of being involved in the development of ALTIMIT OS. However, I was blown away by the work I witnessed him do on the project. I thought the man was a genius. I wanted to keep him at CC Corp…”
Damia continued to sing about her late lover.
“But I wasn’t able to…”
Veronica stretched out her hand and pick up her glass of Virgin Mary.
“Because his mind had already been captured by something else.”
She turned her head towards Ryuuji.
“I learned the lesson that a man with talent is hard to come by…”
An attractive smile emerged across her lips, and she drank her cocktail while looking at Ryuuji.
“I like a man with talent. It’s also what I like about you.”
“But, I cannot be impressed by man who abandons his own research for any reason.”
Veronica’s smile disappeared as fast as it first appeared.
“You abandoned your own research. I think it was inevitable that you’d arrive at Real Digitalize. To borrow Seto’s words from the report, you gave up. This decision is worthy of praise. But, did you have no other choice?”
Veronica put her right hand to her chin and crossed her legs. That pose on a woman such as her made her beauty stand out all the more. It was a regal beauty that overwhelmed all those who gazed upon her.
“Once perfected, the technology will not disappear. That is to say, Real Digitalize and The World will be one and the same. We have no choice but to advance the technology that has appeared in the world. If we can’t prevent the issues that occur, we should think about the next steps and how to control it. It’s no good at all to not think about it and hope it gets solved on its own. It’s no good to throw it all away and run.”
“You don’t believe you want to complete your research? If you come to the San Diego branch, we’ll provide the best environment for you.”
Ryuuji drank the rest of his glass. The ice cubes made a light clinking sound. The milkshake was delicious to the last drop. He winked towards the counter and the bartender came over immediately.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“We’re finished, thank you. Please bring us the bill. We’re together.”
“This is my first time having such a delicious milkshake.”
“Thank you very much.”
The bartender left and Ryuuji turned to Veronica.
“I’ll pay,” she said.
“No, that’s not necessary. I’d be punished if I asked you to pay for telling me a lovely story while I got to drink a delicious cocktail with such a beautiful woman,” Ryuuji said.
“Oh, at the moment I’m occupied with the rats. Honestly, it makes me wish I could borrow some cats. Now I’m working on planning my next move. I can’t imagine what to do next if I don’t solve the problem.”
Veronica looked Ryuuji square in the eyes.
“I see,” she said in a cold voice and crossed her legs.
“So, what is your next move?” she asked.
“I just try to do something. To take it one step at a time.”
The bartender came and gently placed the bill in front of Ryuuji.
Ryuuji took it in his hand and confirmed the amount.
“Well then, Ms. Bain. Please excuse me, I have work to attend to.”
She stood up and looked at his forehead once again.
Immediately it seemed like she had been struck by a curse.
Ryuuji was stopped by Veronica in front of the door.
He looked back.
The booth Veronica sat in was reminiscent of the beautiful white snake that coils in burrows.
“Should I think that you’ll refuse me again?”
“I will handle your request.”
A glossy smile appeared.
“I await a good report.”
*Damia is the stage name of Marie-Louise Damien, a French singer and actress who toured Japan in 1953. Her career spanned more than 40 years. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie-Louise_Damien)