.hack//Bullet Chapter 42 (end)
Suddenly he noticed that a face was floating in the dark.
It was the face of a young girl he knew very well.
Her sleek eyebrows slanted downward and she looked at Ryuuji with an anxious look.
Then the face went away.
Another face appeared.
A man’s face. He also recognized this face. A wide forehead with eyebrows and a nose denoting a strong will.
A third face appeared.
He did not know this face. Who could it be? This man seemed to be wearing a white lab coat.
The previous man spoke with a Kansai dialect.
“How’s his condition?”
“He’s terribly weak. He needs to rest for a week or so,” answered the man in the white lab coat.
“That long?” the little girl said with a concerned tone.
“What time is it?” asked Ryuuji.
“Ryuuji, you’re awake?”
“He’s just talking in a state of delirium.”
“No, I’m fine. Please tell me the time.”
Ryuuji tried to raise himself up from the bed with his hands.
Then he blacked out.
Ryuuji suddenly realized that he was standing on the shores of a lake.
There was a huge rat nearby, drinking water.
For some reason, Ryuuji did not feel disgust.
The giant rat got up from drinking water and turned to face Ryuuji.
“We are all just characters in a game.” the rat cried out.
“I felt that way too,” said Ryuuji. The surroundings were very quiet.
The frozen silence seemed as though it were falling from the sky.
Suddenly Ryuuji realized that Lilie was by his side and was looking into his eyes.
“You’re awake? One second, I’ll call the doctor.”
Soon Lilie came back with the doctor.
“Do you know where you are?”
“That’s right, the hospital. How do you feel?”
“I feel like I’m in hospital.”
“You were brought here two days ago. Please don’t worry about anything. Our hospital is supported by CC Corp.”
“Now I’m worried.”
Ryuuji started to lose consciousness again.
It took Ryuuji eight days to fully regain his senses.
One day before discharge, David came in. He had a bunch of newspapers.
“How are you feeling?”
Laying in bed, Ryuuji shook his head.
“I have no choice but to give up my dream of becoming a professional baseball player.”
“Really? That’s unfortunate.”
David placed a bunch of newspapers on the bedside stand, pulled over a chair and sat down.
“This is the morning newspaper from the day after you lost consciousness, Ryuuji. I figured you would like to see the results of your efforts. I brought you a few copies.”
Ryuuji grabbed a few newspapers and skimmed through them briefly.
“There’s nothing about it.”
“Exactly. That day, nothing happened in the evening. There was no mass suicide. You were able to cancel Seto’s rats.”
“Gus and Travis have regained consciousness two days ago. Everyone’s fine, all thanks to you.”
“That’s good. By the way, David, I have a favor to ask.”
“What is it?”
While he had been asleep, various thoughts gathered in his head. He needed support.
“NAB has data from the Black Forest, doesn’t it? At least that’s what you told me.”
“It’s in a file that the person in charge investigated last year.”
“I want you to show me that file.”
David gave Ryuuji a suspicious look.
“Is there something to be worried about?”
Ryuuji shook his head.
“No. I just want to get a quick overview of the topic. It’s not a big deal.”
David gave Ryuuji another suspicious look, but eventually nodded.
“If you hadn’t been there, this case would not be solved. So, go ahead. I will ask the Akasaka branch to pass the file on to you.”
“Thank you. I owe you one.”
For a while, David was silent. It seemed that he could not decide whether he should say the following words.
“Hey, Ryuuji,” he said in a muffled tone.
“What if I were to take you up on that? NAB is looking for talented people.”
“As they definitely should be,” Ryuuji said with a smile.
“Well, you should join us. I think you ought to do.”
David got up from the chair.
“Well, I’ll be going.”
He looked at Ryuuji and put out his right hand.
“I am forever grateful to you. Please give my regards to Lilie.”
Ryuuji put out his right hand and grasped David’s hand.
The two shook hands.
“Did you find any of Aura’s clues?” Ryuuji asked after releasing his hand from David’s.
“Thanks to you.”
With a broad grin, David left the room.
Ryuuji spent the rest of the day looking up at the ceiling.
Seto died, the rats disappeared and CC Corp’s confidential matters were protected. A happy ending. The story was coming to an end. At the cost of Ryuuji’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player. From now on, he would aim to become a master of trendy cafes in Aoyama.
But was that really so?
“Of course not,” Ryuuji said aloud.
The last problem still remained. He had to be rid of it.
She looked at the internet from her net-phone screen. She looked like she was just in her late teens or twenty.
“Hmmm, so you’re Flugel,” she said in plain English as she looked Ryuuji up and down.
“Are you single?”
“That’s right, I’m Flugel. Umm, what? Are you interested in me?”
“Your appearance is rough, a little dirty.”
“Oh, I see… hey! I guess that’s one way to look at it.”
“How are you? Have you recovered?”
“I’m fine, doing well. My contract with CC has expired. I’m glad I don’t have to look at KK’s mug anymore,” she said.
She had a short platinum blonde haircut and bright eyes. She was petite and slender. Ryuuji could not tell her height because she was sitting, but he did not really see her as the player who operated the Sofia Squad’s Urania and was quite the match for Drain in their fight.
“I was just using the net-phone because I wanted to see how silly you looked in the real world. Not for any other reason. The one you asked for you has already been emailed,” she said before turning to the other side.
“Thank you. Charges will be transferred to the same account as before.”
“No, I don’t want money. This is a free gift. I’ve sabotaged you before. So consider us even.”
“Are you sure about that? That’s very helpful. Well, let’s do that then.”
“Well, more than that…” she said hesitantly.
“What are you doing here?”
“What? Me? No, no, no,” said Ryuuji as he waved his hand in rejection.
“I’m just collecting materials to make a report.”
“You’re kidding. Do you have to collect it right now? Such old materials. And a guy who looks pretty good. You’re planning something.”
“Oh? Is that so? Whatever could it be?” Ryuuji said jokingly.
“For some reason, I can imagine, but…”
She shook her head.
“You’re an idiot.”
“So I’m told.”
The rainy season would end this weekend. The news broadcast said so.
On that day, it began to rain soon after noon, but it was only a light drizzle that wet the road. The last vain struggle of the rainy season as it fades away. The long rainy season was over and full summer is about to come.
Ryuuji arrived at the Baketon Hotel just before evening.
Veronica Bain greeted him at the dimly cocktail bar.
Her skin was still as pale as ever and her lipstick-painted lips stood out.
When he sat down at the innermost part of the booth, Ryuuji reported on the matter. Most reports had already been submitted, so he would just add some supplements in person.
While he reported, Veronica looked very upbeat.
“Yuri Kazinski Seto disappeared both online and in the real world. You did what I asked you to do.”
Veronica nodded with satisfaction once Ryuuji’s report was over.
“Ahh, exactly the opposite. All I did was prevent further leaks of confidential data stolen by Yuri Kazinski Seto.”
Ryuuji corrected her.
“I left data collection to the San Diego branch.”
“It’s a trivial matter. You defeated Seto. We have to make a toast.”
Veronica called the old yet elegant bartender.
“A Bloody Mary. Can you have a drink today?”
Ryuuji put his hand to his head.
“Damn. I came by car. Sorry, I’ll have a milkshake, please.”
“Certainly. It’s French Vanilla.”
As the bartender left, Veronica looked at Ryuuji as though taking him to task.
“Thank you very much. In this country, drinking before the sun sets is a vice.”
“It’s a shame you can’t drink alcohol. Well, it is what it is.”
Veronica brought her face hear to Ryuuji’s. She smiled alluringly.
“We still have some unfinished business between us.”
“That’s right. I also wanted to talk about that,” Ryuuji said with a wry smile.
“I was thinking about it all the time. Well, actually I had a dream while in hospital.”
“For some reason, I had a dream about you talking to Seto. I don’t know the place in the dream, but it was like a mountain hut somewhere. Uh, Seto’s body was found in an abandoned house outside of Colorado. Perhaps I was drawn in by this image.”
It was not exactly a dream he had at the time of his admission to hospital. When he shot Drain in the game, the dream came in an instant like a memory flooding back into Ryuuji’s brain.
Veronica narrowed her eyes and smiled.
“What kind of things did Seto and I talk about?”
“I didn’t understand the contents of the conversation,” Ryuuji answered.
“However, this dream led me to open my eyes. Thanks to that, various questions concerning that business have been solved.”
“About the Black Forest. As you reported, quantum computers are heavily involved in this matter. Yuri Seto used the power of the black forest to mass produce rats.”
The bartender brought the cocktail and milkshake. Sogabe thanked her, received his milkshake and drank some.
“That cocktail looks delicious.”
“What happened to the Black Forest?” said Veronica.
“I wonder whether Seto could have used the black forest on his own. He, as a company employee, borrowed a laptop computer from a manager. Quantum computers are goods that are handled by large enterprises and sometimes by national governments. Did Yuri Seto handle one alone? I was worried about it initially.”
Ryuuji took out the palm computer from his pocket and opened the folding keyboard. He took out the copy of the newspaper that was sandwiched inside the palm computer and put it in front of Veronica.
“Did Seto perhaps have an accomplice? I thought so and examined it in various ways. Please look at this. It’s a copy of a newspaper from San Diego. The photos are blurred, because they are so old,” said Ryuuji.
“This article is from the year 2000. Do you understand? It’s about a new venture company that is focusing on developing new computers. The company’s name is…”
Ryuuji pointed out the place with a finger.
Veronica smiled and listened to Ryuuji’s explanation.
“After that, this company will become known all over the world for the ALTIMIT OS. It seems that the story of the quantum computer had vanished because its impact was too strong. What I want to show you is the photo, and this line below it. The members are listed in order, here. This woman. Please have a look at her.”
Having said that, Ryuuji did not look at the photo. He looked at Veronica’s face.
“Isn’t this you, Ms. Veronica? A much younger you.”
Veronica did not look at the picture. She was looking at Ryuuji’s face.
“Is it? I can’t really tell from this photo.”
For the first time, she took up her glass of virgin Bloody Mary and drank it.
“You’re right, this picture is certainly hard to see clearly. However, there was an accomplice to Seto. That much seems certain. For example, Seto knew about the existence of the camera at ALGOS. In order to outmanoeuvre the camera, he floated his large fleet behind it. This is not something you can do without knowing the system beforehand.”
“Perhaps one of the programmers that ALGOS hired leaked the specifications?”
“I also suspected that. Their background check was perfect. No one is connected to Seto. There are other points that I thought were strange.”
“What would those be?”
“Sophia Corp’s Urania. Her abilities were too specialized to rats. There’s no chance. It seems that the person who prepared her had known about the rats well before I reported it.”
“I don’t understand. Why would Seto’s collaborator prepare Urania who’s an anti-virus?”
“Seto had a collaborator. But that person was not Seto’s perfect companion,” Ryuuji continued.
“The collaborator sent a Sophia team to defeat Seto while supplying the black forest. In other words, the collaborator advanced things in the spirit of a game master and made fine adjustments to enliven the game.”
“That’s an interesting way of thinking about it.”
“Ms. Veronica, I have checked your schedule since you arrived in Japan. Most of the time, you stay at this hotel except for a few meetings. It’s as if you were afraid to be attacked by someone.”
Ryuuji was not smiling anymore.
“This Baketon Hotel was founded in the Meiji period, and it is hand-crafted, so to speak, and it endeavors to provide service that places importance on the connection between people. It’s an abstract way of speaking, but, in short, there is no computer here at all. All guest records are handled in analog. In other words, it is a safe area where an online attack does not work at all. Naturally, you could escape from the Deadly Flash.”
“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
She smiled, but it was more a laugh than a smile.
“You were here already when you called me. Because you knew the threat the rats posed. While you were supporting Yuri Seto’s acts of terrorism, you did not remove your alert protocol.”
Veronica was still laughing. But her eyes reflected the light strangely and she was now giving off an energy from her body as though emitting electricity.
“Why would I do such a dangerous thing?”
Ryuuji shook his head.
“I don’t know, unfortunately, but I can guess.”
“Let’s hear it then.”
“Didn’t you have some sort of feud with Harold Hoerwick?”
When Ryuuji said this, it seemed that a new expression appeared on Veronica’s face.
“Your attitude towards The World is quite cold. This has always bothered me. Certainly, as a manager, it may be right. But you are looking at The World in an emotionless way.”
Ryuuji stopped his monologue.
Veronica began to laugh and laugh.
As her lovely figure wriggled like a white snake, she said something odd.
“That’s okay. It’s fine,” she said and smiled, showing her bright white teeth.
“Ryuuji. As I thought, you are wonderful. So I’ll tell you the truth.”
Veronica took out a pipe decorated with roses and began to pack leaves into the bowl.
“I did take advantage of Yuri Seto’s scheme somewhat. I prepared what was needed as commanded and I just gave him some rear support. As you said, I helped him to use the power of the Black Forest and I also taught him about ALGOS’ specs.”
Suddenly the atmosphere became serious. Ryuuji was puzzled.
“Why did you do that?”
“You said it yourself. It’s a gamemaster’s pretense. I think that expression is very easy to understand.”
Contrary to her roguish tone, Veronica’s voice was as cold as a tombstone. Realizing that she had begun to speak the truth without remorse, Ryuuji was appalled.
“I like talented people. Yuri Seto was disorganized in his thoughts, but he was a genius. Did he create anything? Did he produce anything using the existing technologies at his disposal? I wanted to find out.”
Veronica rubbed a match against the matchbook with one hand and carefully lit the pipe.
“Seto’s work was satisfactory. He proved that splendidly. We are already surpassing the power of the Ultimate AI. We no longer need Aura. So, I chose you as an obstacle to the rise of Seto. The good news is that you were a better bargain than Seto.”
She held the pipe’s mouthpiece between her lips and began to smoke contentedly.
“So no we can finally return to our original business.”
“And what was that?”
“It’s not a beautiful world that we live in, Ryuuji. The circumstances do not matter. That is not a problem. Please look at the status quo,” Veronica whispered in Ryuuji’s ear.
Smoke tickled Ryuuji’s nose.
“Your intelligence has the capability of being at the forefront of technology. The San Diego branch has an environment where you can demonstrate its power. We are ready to accept you.”
The trial was persisting. It would tag along forever.
“I’ll have to decline. It’s a terrible story,” Ryuuji said.
Veronica’s beautiful eyebrows momentarily moved.
“At ALTIMIT, it seems that development of a new type of quantum computer… has been extremely difficult. In fact, I, by chance, obtained the development data of that time.”
After Ryuuji said that, he started his palm PC and the screen turned on.
The last data he had arranged recently. He asked Urania, or Judy Goldman, to steal the data stored at ALTIMIT.
“‘…The Black Forest is a prison built by electrons. Prisoners are separated from their real bodies by special techniques and are sentenced to remain in digital space. The prisoner, a so-called Lost One, by lacking common sense and by the lawless act to control the Black Forest, is subjected to a literal imprisonment without pardon or parole. The more the prisoners increase, the more pain they are given,the machine expands, and its efficiency improves. For this purpose, verification by human experimentation is essential. It is necessary to secure the distribution channel of bio-elements by any means…'”
Ryuuji looked at Veronica.
“That writing is rather dangerous. A bio-element is essentially a natural unconscious person. It is a Lost One who has been involved in the anomalous phenomenon of The World. That was stated in the documents of a case from last year that NAB seized. However, it is unlikely that there were any Lost Ones when ALTIMIT was working on quantum computers. At that time, The World itself did not exist. So, what happened?”
He moved his finger as he scrolled the page.
“ALTIMIT used very healthy ordinary people, people who were not unconscious, as subjects. For example, they would tell a user that the user had won a free game campaign and under the pretense of experiencing the latest online games, the user would put on the FMD and then bio-elementing operations would be applied without the user’s knowledge…”
The desired page appeared.
Ryuuji stabbed his finder at the screen and stopped the screen’s scrolling, then showed the screen to Veronica.
“From here on there is a page that summarizes the subject’s medical records. The experiment observation records for the subject are written here.”
Ryuuji read aloud.
“‘Headaches. Intense pain. A searing rash. Sometimes accompanied by blisters. These symptoms do not occur at computer startup. The aforementioned symptoms occur during bedtime over a period of one to two days. Damage received during virtual reality experiences is relived in dreams…'”
At that moment, Ryuuji stopped talking and breathed deeply to calm himself.
“Is that okay?”
His voice seemed to go up, but he suppressed it with his willpower. Even so, there spoke as though about to cry.
“These are the same symptoms my wife had!”
ALTIMIT, located in San Diego, was developing quantum computers connected to the Black Forest.
Kaya Froebe lived in San Diego until she came to Germany with the help of the Weiss family.
She had been taken there by her father at an early age and then participated in a campaign for an online game, the true nature of which was unknown at the time.
Then a mark of karmic suffering was engraved deep in the their bodies.
Veronica was silent after Ryuuji started talking about the medical records.
She put the pipe on the desk and looked over it. The upper half of her face was shaded by the angle of the light.
It seemed like she was thinking of a way to deal with it.
That was not the case, however. As Veronica raised her face, the light moved and her eyes appeared out of the shade.
Something had happened to her feminine face. Something in her eyes was seething and her personality changed.
“That’s a shame.”
Her bewitching career woman’s attire was held under the light and something unpleasant made an appearance.
An non-human element stood out in the foreground.
“You’ve already realized that it was my intention to inform you a little,” said Veronica Bain.
“Then you could have created great research to overcome your suffering.”
She was not the person to discuss things with. It had become clear.
Ryuuji got up and looked down at Veronica.
“So, what are you going to do?” asked Veronica.
“There is no evidence that you talked with me here today. It’s just a delusion built up from vague and dumb speculation.”
“Yes, but thanks to you, I now understand what I should do,” Ryuuji said. He had already returned to his usual voice.
“All I need to do is to prove what I just talked about. I will seek out the evidence. Exhaustively.”
Veronica slowly got up. It was like a snake that lifted its neck and raised its upper body.
Ryuuji did not draw back.
Ryuuji and the snake locked eyes.
“Are you in your right mind? I mean, you’re turning CC Corp… and ALTIMIT Corp… into enemies.”
“Perhaps that’s the case.”
“You know, I like people like you.”
“I am generous to my favorite people. So, I will let you leave this hotel. Please go.”
Veronica spoke again as Ryuuji reached the exit.
Ryuuji stopped, but did not look back.
“I look forward to seeing you again,” said Veronica.
“You are indifferent to the pain of others, like a snake that strangles a rat,” Ryuuji said with his back turned. He took out a candy from his jacket pocket, peeled off the wrapping paper and put the candy in his mouth.
“You will get your recompense. Sooner or later, it will come.”
When he left the Baketon Hotel, the rain had already stopped.
Ryuuji squinted and looked up at the sky. It was a sunny cloudless day.
Just then, he thought he saw the shadow of a bird fly over his head.
Ryuuji turned around and looked all around, but could not find the bird.