Web小説 「.hack//bullet」


   Reiko inserted her Japanese SIM card back into her phone at Narita Airport and it immediately sprang to life with all sorts of messages and notifications. Now that she had reconnected to the stream of information that made up the unseeable world layered over Japan, Reiko felt somewhat at peace.
    She took a cab from the airport back to her quaint apartment, this time with a silent driver who smiled at nothing in particular as he drove past rice fields that lined the roads between Narita and Tokyo. As she fingered through her messages the setting sun blinded her and she put her phone down.
    You will submit a report to the NAB.
    Veronica Bain's instructions echoed in her mind. So far, she had followed them to a T--Mr. Ogura had shown her the machine called the quantum computer, which resembled computers of yore: large, nondescript, and took up a whole room. Mr. Ogura, wiping sweat off his face, had told her that someday this computer would be in the palm of her hands, just like a PDA. Reiko had stared at the machine with eyes glazed over. The box itself was exactly that, a box, tinted somewhat and hiding the true form of the computer beyond its boundary. Reiko could just make out its shape, something hanging from the ceiling, myriad wires like tentacles eternal. An electronic terror loomed and haunted her, but she could feel no fear. Like a ghost floating through the waking world, she merely took notes in automata, and then continued along the track designated by Mr. Ogura.
    She had drafted a report on the plane. It was worded in a way that was neither suspicious nor empty. It included all necessary details of her journey and what she learned along the way. She had thought how amazing it was, that despite multiple player accounts of a catlike PC manipulating player data, all it took was the account of one person with the right credentials writing a perfectly manufactured report and reality could effectively be overwritten with a lie.

   When she arrived at her apartment she was greeted by Audrey, the friendliest of her three cats. Laura sat by the window, undisturbed by her master's reappearance, and Billy, the third, was nowhere to be found, but Reiko knew he would make himself apparent by his own terms.
   "Did you miss me?" asked Reiko, but it was more the other way around.
   Reiko put a kettle on the stove and prepared a mug and teabag, then entered the main room. Her apartment was a simple affair. There was one living area where Reiko mainly worked, and a bedroom which had a bed, closet, and not much else. It was functional and more of a formality than anything else--most of her time was spent at the office. Even her closet was bare, most of her changes of clothes she kept in the personal quarters of the Akasaka branch.
   Reiko’s travel bag made an empty noise when dropped on her bed and out came Billy, pitch black just like the corner of the room he had walked out of. He pushed her face towards her hand and Reiko scratched his chin, his favourite spot. Satisfied, Billy returned to the living room with the others.
   Reiko followed, laptop in hand, and sat by the balcony that didn't overlook much. In the distance she could make out the vague pulsing light of Tokyo Skytree, but it was mostly just nondescript office buildings lining her view. She turned the laptop on and turned the TV on for good measure too. Time to catch up.
   The news was the usual. Some new breakthrough in health foods that would be overturned within a month, yet another pop star found participating in some illicit activity, and the usual run of protestors outside of the Akasaka branch, fighting back against the Tri-Surveillance Network system that was to be put into place soon. Getting into the office is only gonna get harder, Reiko thought to herself, and was surprised how quickly she had returned to her regular groove following the encounter in San Diego.
   You will submit a report to the NAB.
   The disembodied voice of Veronica Bain reminded her of her duty. She focused on her laptop screen and launched her word processor. Just then a new message made itself apparent in her e-mail ticker. It was from a junk e-mail address. The message read:

       To the wanderer,
       I know what you're looking for. I know about the Black Forest, the Digital Bastille, and about your brother, too. I want you to know that the monster is not invincible. I'd tell you more, but there are things that can only be discussed face-to-face. I can meet you at....

    The e-mail specified a place between places, some industrial zone long put on hold while power switched hands in the government and budgets were rebalanced into oblivion. Reiko read the e-mail over a few more times as if to confirm its veracity. It was her first time being contacted by an informant--usually it was the other way around. There was a fishiness to the whole thing. It could very well be a trap, but by who? She had entered the dragon's den less than 24 hours ago and saw the ceiling of the world. This was the only lifeline left in her predetermined world--she had to see it through, trap or not.
    The kettle was whistling. Reiko went up and poured her tea, and then took a cursory sip, burning the tip of her tongue like every cup of tea she had had before it. The pain was just enough to rein in her nerves and remind her that she wasn't alone. Justice would come to those who deserved it.
   She began to write the final draft of her report.

next ch.52: GUARDIAN ANGEL