As he was about to start climbing the sloped mountain trail, the figure came upon the facility.
He was there to hand in a letter of introduction. He stepped up to the reception desk and handed the letter to the lab-coat-wearing staff member behind the desk. The staff member eyed him suspiciously as he surrendered the letter and he was informed that his visit would be limited to ten minutes.
“Ten minutes?” said Ryuuji.
Ryuuji was surprised that visits were to be kept so short.
“Actually, visitation is prohibited, due to the ill effect it may have on the residents,” said the staff-member.
The response was not very convincing.
Ryuuji thought of the ill effects. He was certainly not the type of person who wished anyone any ill will.
“Now it’s time for his afternoon stroll. You should come out and see the courtyard. Would you prefer to stay in the waiting room, or would you like to come to the courtyard?”
Ryuuji wanted to meet in the courtyard, so the staff member invited him inside. The corridor was dead and silent. A cold air lingered.
“If only you had contacted us in advance.”
The staff member barely hid his harsh tone as he continued on ahead.
“I can make an allowance this time.”
“Thank you,” said Ryuuji, bowing his head weakly.
If memory served him correctly, he had called the day before to set a visitation time. This must have been a simple miscommunication. Today’s time slot had been confirmed by this very staff member, and since there weren’t many days left on his bus pass, Ryuuji had come all this way.
“There are some things you should know,” said the staff-member without looking back. He stood there confidently. He had the attitude of someone who was used to being at the top of the food chain.
“Please obey visitation time limits. Please do not feel uncomfortable around the residents who talk strangely. Also, items such as knives and razor blades, matches or lighters, explosives, and chemicals are prohibited. Are you ready?”
“Is it okay if I skip the written oath?” said Ryuuji.
The staff-member turned around with a surprised look on his face. He continued on at a brisk pace as before, and was able to keep astride of Ryuuji who was over 180 centimetres tall.
The two continued walking side by side and chatting while Ryuuji tried to think up a plan. He continued speaking.
“I think it best that you agree not to concern yourself or the authorities with any sort of happenings within these facility walls. That would make for a good suspense film, wouldn’t you agree? It’s called that when a director intends to bestow a feeling of tension from the beginning of the story. It gets the heart racing. As a child I would make my own secret designs and signs, it was something of a dream of mine. However well-thought out it may be, from frequently seeing that billboard with the similar design in the parking lot of this area’s convenience store, I have become somewhat disillusioned. The bluebird close to the billboard is also not too happy about it,” said Ryuuji.
The staff-member nodded.
“I have doubts about happiness itself,” Ryuuji added.
There was a pause for a while.
“The sign is unnecessary,” quipped the staff member.
The staff-member once again brought up his thoughts on the situation.
“By coming here, nearly everyone gets better. When you called, we informed you that there were simple regulations to follow.”
Ryuuji startled his companion with a sudden shout.
“Damn it. I have some candy with me. Is that okay?”
Ryuuji felt around in his pocket for a candy, removed one, and raised it level with his face for his companion to see, and pointed to the plastic wrap.
“Look at this here. This is a sharp point. Isn’t this dangerous?” asked Ryuuji.
The staff-member, as he was about to say something, swallowed deeply, then spoke in a hushed voice.
“That’s not a problem.”
“I see. Well, that’s good.”
Ryuuji held out his candy with a smile.
“Try one. It’s cola flavoured.”
The staff-member’s expression was now like that of a noh mask. He turned away and started walking onwards with a quick pace. It seemed that he was putting in too much effort to shake off this outsider.
However, try as he might, he was not able to get away from or cruelly drive away this person carrying the CC Corp. Japan letter of introduction. Ryuuji disliked people who acted arrogantly through borrowed authority.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, they arrived at a door. The staff-member turned the knob to open the door, and then invited Ryuuji in. Ryuuji saw the spacious courtyard. Standing at the threshold, he saw a stone wall covered in damp green moss that swept around to the other side, encircling a variety of tress under a serene blue sky.
“Remember, visits are limited to ten minutes. When your chat is done, please notify the reception desk. Is that alright?”
It seemed that there was no other choice. Ryuuji turned and passed through the door.
“Ah, do you happen to have a timer?”
The door closed at the tip of Ryuuji’s nose with a thud. Then the sound of footsteps died away, leaving Ryuuji alone at the edge of the courtyard.
Residents could be seen around the courtyard in groups of two and three. Everyone was dressed in the same manner, so they were indistinguishable from a distance. The temperature of the courtyard felt comfortable. It was mid-May, a season when everything is very lush and green. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sunshine was refreshing.
This was nice, but the courtyard was very wide. It was somewhat like a small urban park. Ryuuji did not care about visiting hours just because there were “simple regulations to follow” and considering how hard it was to get to this place, he was a little fed up with rules. But he believed that he had indeed found what he was looking for.
He found it easily.
A man was sitting quietly, like a statue, on a bench installed in a shady area of the courtyard.
Bending the page into a doggy ear, he closed the old book he had been intently reading and placed it on his knee. To his right a cane was propped up on the bench.
As Ryuuji approached, the man raised his head and stared at Ryuuji with scrutinizing eyes.
The man’s actual age was difficult to determine, but he did not appear to be in his thirties. One could expect that he was, at most, in his late twenties. He was wearing thin pale-tinted glasses, and he had a well-defined slender face. However, what caught Ryuuji’s eye was that several years of not getting enough sunlight left the man with a pale, almost blue, skin tone.
“Hello. Nice weather, isn’t it?” said Ryuuji.
“Yes, it is,” answered the man politely.
“It was cold a little while ago, but it’s much nicer out now.”
As he said this, the man’s long-slitted eyes moved, gazing up and down at Ryuuji’s suit.
“Are you a resident here?” asked Ryuuji.
“I am,” replied the man.
“Are you an acquaintance of mine?” asked the man.
“Yes,” answered Ryuuji.
The man forced his mouth into a smile.
“I’m sorry. My memory has been acting a little peculiar lately…”
“My name is Ryuuji. Ryuuji Sogabe.”
“I’m Jyotarou Amagi.”
As the man introduced himself, he placed his book beside himself.
Ryuuji passed Jyotarou a business card, and sat down next to him.
“Actually, first, there’s something I want to ask you, Mr. Amagi.”
Jyotarou tilted his head slightly to look at the business card he received.
“Network Trouble Consultant…,” Jyotarou read aloud.
“I deal with various problems on the Net. Well, it’s something like a detective agency.”
“As I said before, my memory is not the best. If it concerns my work, I’m afraid I cannot discuss it,” said Jyotarou.
He seemed to be cautious about hearing the word ‘Net’. It was a natural reaction for those who worked their way up in the business like Jyotarou Amagi.
“That’s not a problem,” replied Ryuuji in a feigned nonchalant manner.
“Does the name ‘Geist’ ring any bells?” asked Ryuuji.
“Well, let’s see. Doesn’t that mean ‘spirit’?” said Jyotarou with a puzzled tone.
“If I remember correctly, I think it’s some sort of philosophy term. Oh, I was told about it. I feel like I heard that name before… from a European landscape artist.” continued Jyotarou.
As he searched through his memory and spoke slowly, Jyotarou looked at Ryuuji.
“Other than that, I don’t remember anything,” said Jyotarou.
Ryuuji looked at Jyotarou’s eyes. There was a change in his facial expression. It didn’t change with talk of weather. ‘Nice weather, isn’t it?’ ‘Yes, it is.’ Jyotarou’s essence had been unaffected by that matter.
“Is that so? Well, thanks anyway,” said Ryuuji.
Suddenly, a flowing chime that sounded like a xylophone rang out from a speaker somewhere in the facility.
Jyotarou turned his head and muttered to Ryuuji.
“Lunch break is over. I have to go back in.”
Ryuuji stood up.
“Thanks for your time. It was nice meeting you.”
“Are you satisfied with my answers? Well… what I can remember anyway.”
Jyotarou took his cane and slowly stood up.
“Of course. You were very helpful. Ah, you forgot your book,” said Ryuuji.
Ryuuji grabbed the book and passed it to Jyotarou. Ryuuji saw the title, which read ‘Vijnapti-matrata’.*
“That must be a difficult book. Is it from Buddhism?” remarked Ryuuji.
“Yes, it is. I borrowed it from a coworker a long time ago and haven’t been able to return it. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to read it and, now that I’m in here, I think I’ve found it, but it’s not easy to read.”
Jyotarou stroked the book cover with a bitter smile, muttering softly to himself.
“Just before I came here, I had this huge fight with this guy at work. I got really angry.”
Ryuuji remained silent.
“In some ways I’m still angry, because I can’t go back and make it all better,” continued Jyotarou.
Suddenly the wind blew and whistled through the trees. The wind was refreshing and cool, a change from the warmth of the courtyard.
Jyotarou’s body trembled.
“It’s chilly. There’s quite a breeze, isn’t there?” he said.
“Oh, please go on in. I’ll stay here for a bit and enjoy the air,” replied Ryuuji.
Jyotarou bowed and went back, walking with his cane, into the facility. He dragged his left leg awkwardly.
Ryuuji waited until Jyotarou’s back was no longer in sight, then removed from his pocket a portable data terminal and gently brushed the panel with his finger, loading the memo function. A message alert was instantly displayed on the screen.
1:02 p.m., 19 May, 2023.
During Ryuuji’s visit, he was contacted by Jyotarou’s cousin, just about his only relative, Saika Amagi. In this message, she explained her knowledge of the condition her cousin, Jyotarou, was diagnosed with: memory loss. After delving into cyberspace as “flesh and blood”, Jyotarou paid for his deeds upon returning to the real world.
His memory ceases at the year 2015. He now believes that he works on the Urayasu coast mega-float. After he caused a serious loss of data to the company, he was transferred to his present location of Odaiba, Tokyo… He thinks the fire he started is all a dream. To him it’s a thing of the future.
The co-worker he fought with was likely Banshouya Jun. Together with Jyotarou, he participated in CC Corp.’s top secret project as team leader. He died a long time ago.
As Ryuuji took in the text, he sighed deeply.
While Jyotarou reads the book he borrowed from Banshouya, he keeps waiting for the day when he’ll meet him again.
While he wishes to reconcile, he will continue to read the book at this facility indefinitely. However, there will never come a day when Jyotarou finishes reading that book. His memory will keep resetting to the year 2015.
I don’t know known whether The World Goddess will perhaps show Jyotarou’s condition some mercy and compassion. Very few know how things will turn out. Because of that, everyone bears the responsibility for the damage he caused.
After he turned off the portable data terminal’s power, Ryuuji thought whether he should have conveyed something to Jyotarou or not.
At least, that was his only reason for coming to visit.
However, maybe it’s best if he explained it like this–
Even after he left ‘The World’, Jyotarou Amagi’s ‘Geist’ still wanders to this very day.
END OF PROLOGUE
*Vijnapti-matrata (‘Thesis of Cognitions’) is a Buddhist theory which states that all existence is subjective and nothing exists outside of the mind.