Web小説 「.hack//bullet」


   "Fish or chicken?"
   Reiko took the chicken meal, but it didn't really matter. Both tasted awful. Even on these first class flights afforded by the NAB, the food didn't taste like much and didn't sit well in her stomach either. Some fifteen minutes after eating she was hunched over the toilet.
    When she arrived in San Diego she was hungry, sick, and hot. The weather was noticeably warmer than Aomori, with no snow to be seen. The winter sun paid no mind to the time of year, and it was unusually hot for January in California. In the crowd of people at arrivals she noticed a Japanese man holding up a sign with her name written in kanji. As soon as he noticed her he smiled and waved.
    "Ms. Saeki, yes?"
    "I'll be taking you to CyberConnect's San Diego office." He said this with a bow. Reiko was taken aback by his traditional Japanese sensibilities contrasted with the American hustle and bustle of the San Diego International Airport, and all she could do was smile awkwardly and give a nod in his direction.
   He took her bags. Reiko took note of his nametag, which read "Steven Yamanaka." She followed as he carried her things to the pitch black taxi that was waiting for her outside. As they exited the airport Reiko felt the sun's intense rays latch on to her black hair and pervade her entire body. The hot Californian sun only made her feel worse. Meanwhile Yamanaka seemed unperturbed, fully equipped in a three piece suit, cap, and even pristine white gloves. He existed in his own world, one that was clearly air conditioned.
    Reiko wobbled into the car, and the leather immediately singed her exposed legs. She yelped, and Yamanaka immediately came to her side. "Are you alright, Ms. Saeki?" he asked, and procured a bottle of water seemingly out of nowhere. She could barely muster a response but took the bottle anyways.
    "I'll be okay--I just get a bit sick when I fly. Sorry to bother you."
   Yamanaka, judging her condition to not be too serious, returned to the front seat. The car sped off along the highway, the sun's rays broken up by palm trees that flickered in Reiko's vision.
   "Is it your first time in San Diego, Ms. Saeki?"
    "I've been once or twice before, always for work..."
   "Ah, that's too bad. It's really a nice place. The sun doesn't feel like this in Tokyo, does it?"
   Reiko gave a vague grunt of agreement. She didn't want to be rude to Mr. Yamanaka and bore no grudge against him--it was just that her body felt about ready to turn itself inside out.
   "You know, Ms. Saeki, my boss has been really excited to see you. The truth is, I'm a chauffeur reserved for specific guests. I don't work for CyberConnect all the time, you see. So as I see it you must be a very special guest."
   Reiko made no comment, and the sun began to blur.
   "I've picked up many special guests before, but you are the first Japanese I've ever driven. I know it says my first name is Steven, but that's just to make American guests feel more at home. My real name is Sanshiro. I'm not too good with English, so I haven't been able to speak this freely in a while. You don't mind, do you?"
   "I haven't been back home in quite some time. How many years has it been? Perhaps almost a decade. But the pay is just too good. These upper level corporate Americans seem to think us Japanese provide a premium service on account of our "honour" or whatever, but if I'm being honest I used to be an average cabbie back in Tokyo."
    The car swerved along the freeway and Reiko shook to one side.
   "There's really no difference between this job and that one--this suit I'm wearing is the same one I used to bum around in back home! But Americans can't tell the difference, you know? They're so used to a taxi cab as being something filthy, a kind of spot you don't hang around in long. I mean, Japanese taxis aren't any better, but at least we're good at hiding it!"
    The sun beamed.
   "I think it's really just a matter of perspective. Isn't everything like that? If I drove a filthy cab in Tokyo, no one would ever ride. The business would tank! But when all the cabs are filthy, you just gotta pick your poison. But it's all perspective, Ms. Saeki, the eye of the beholder. That's what it's all about."
   And the car sped on, and on, and on...
   "I mostly just sit down and shut up when there's an American in the backseat, but a Japanese woman like yourself is so rare! Say, Ms. Saeki, where are you from?"
    But Reiko couldn't answer, and in fact was not able to hear Yamanaka for some time now. His words began to muffle, and she vaguely recalled him calling her name, but the sun and its intense heat washed away any sense of existence as she dropped to her side on the black leather seats, melting into its seams.

*   *   *

   She clung to the gentle beeping of her heart monitor and dragged herself from the depths of her unconscious back to reality. The hospital bed was hard, and it was night time. Various displays showed all the numeric values of every process of Reiko's body, and she felt the totality of her existence.
    "Oh good, you're awake." This was said by a man's voice.
    "Did I fall asleep?"
    "Ah, yes. You lost consciousness for a while there, Ms. Saeki."
    "What is this place?"
    The man told her it was a hospital right by CyberConnect's San Diego office, and was sponsored by them, too. By "them," he meant that he was also a part of this entity, an employee of CyberConnect. He wore that fact on his face--the deeply imprinted rings on his eyes that seemed as if they had been there since the moment he was born, and hair turned prematurely grey. The slumped position he took on the seat by her bedside that was both a way to relax and a way to make sure he could get up at any time--he was a man at the beck and call of his superiors lest he one day become one. This was the bonafide CyberConnect employee: eager, dejected, and robotic.
    "I understand you were also once an employee of CyberConnect."
    "That's right."
    "Welcome back." He prepared some earl grey tea for Reiko and placed it on the tray in front of her. Its warm aroma woke her senses. "My name is Kiyoshi Ogura. I'm the secreterial office chief here at CyberConnect. I usually manage the ALGOS branch, but lately I've been more of Ms. Bain's assistant."
    "Ms. Bain," of course, was the CEO of CyberConnect Corporation America, Veronica Bain. Reiko had only ever seen her in news reports and photographs, but even her visual presence was imposing. There were no mistakes in her attire. Every wrinkle, every piece of lint, dust, and dead skin had been obliterated from within a ten foot radius around her. Ms. Bain was one of the most powerful people in the world, and the world itself recognized that in turn.
    "Right... Ms. Bain..." Reiko sat up a bit with each sip of the tea. The sound of her pulse filled the room as it rose a miniscule amount as they began to talk about Veronica Bain.
   "Ms. Bain has informed me that you are a very special guest. This is why I sent for Mr. Yamanaka to pick you up. He would like to tell you that he is really quite sorry for not being more attentive to your needs."
    "That's alright."
    "In any case, Ms. Bain insists that you postpone your meeting for at least 24 hours until you've returned to full health."
    Reiko, for whatever reason, felt it was imperative that she see Ms. Bain today, and she insisted that she was in full health.
    "I'm sorry Ms. Saeki, the decision has already been made. It's irreversible now. Ms. Bain's schedule cannot be altered once it is set in stone. She is a busy woman, you understand."
    "I understand." Reiko slumped back down into her bed a little bit.
   "Please just rest. Our facilities here will take care of anything you need. There is a nurse assigned to this room 24 hours of the day. Feel free to ask for anything you desire."
   Reiko was suspicious. Again, her intuition keyed her in that something unusual was happening here, but it was impossible to tell what. This was the unknowable nature of Ms. Bain, a woman who existed according to a script. What was the nature of her visit to Bain? She had forgotten in that car that had melted around her. And now, the warmth of the earl grey beneath her lips passed her from her waking state into her unconscious mind, falling asleep before the thought could reach its apex.

next ch.49: COLORADO