Web小説 「.hack//bullet」

#60: KOBE

   A star fell across the sky, and a newborn child cried out. It was just outside of Kobe, Japan, one early morning as the sun had nearly risen that a postman was witness to the birth of a baby girl. To the postman, it was the closest he had ever brushed with reality. He had seen all sorts of things between homes, but the moment of life itself was as real as it got.
   That postman witnessed the birth of Eriko Fujioka.
   The Fujioka farm was simple and pedestrian. The rice paddies were sizable enough to work her parents to their most feasible limits whilst allowing for a comfortable standard of living, and kept Eriko fed for most of her life. Soon she was big enough to fit a middle school uniform. At that point in her life, she had still never left Kobe. The world to her was small, about the distance from her farm to her school. By age 13, she had memorized every pebble on the road, the order in which the leaves bloomed every fall, and the precise location where every year’s first snowflake would hit the ground. The size of the world was felt by every fiber of her being.
   When she turned 14, she expanded the scope slightly farther and began attending high school. She rode a train every morning to Kobe proper, and walked with students who didn’t all come from farms. Some months into her second year, she met a boy who sat behind her in class who came to like her from watching the back of her head change everyday—sometimes a ponytail, sometimes straight down, sometimes pigtails—Eriko could never decide. When the courage to tell her how he felt about the back of her head finally possessed him Eriko could not understand why he felt the way he did, but she was intrigued that anyone could have such emotions to begin with. She decided to let him take the lead.
   One day she found herself in his room, and there they met:
   Eriko Fujioka and a jet black screen.
   The void of the monitor called out to her, and before anything else she insisted he show her how to use it. She had heard about computers, but her family had never required one. The farmer’s market operated locally, and Eriko’s parents were a bit older than others. The necessity for an electronic box in their home was nonexistent when Eriko's 90-year-old grandmother's immortally sharp memory maintained all the happenings of the farm inside her head like the motherboard of the estate.
   Nevertheless, the photographs had fascinated her. People told fantastical stories about meeting others in what was called hyperspace, the matrix, the information highway, and so on—all terms born of fantasy that spurred the fantasy within Eriko’s mind. The void called her in.
   “Is it true you can meet people from Tokyo with this thing?”
   “Well, sure. You can even meet people from the States!”
   Eriko’s eyes widened.
   “The States? As in, America? Those States?”
   “Yep. Cool, right?”
   The screen wasn’t even on yet. The boy was nervous as hell to have a girl in his room, especially one he had felt as strongly about as Eriko. He decided to take a chance and turned the computer on from behind her, who was sitting in the chair. As he leaned past the chair he could smell her faint feminine aroma, but Eriko was thinking of nothing but the light that had just turned on in front of her.
   The computer greeted the boy and he logged in. His wallpaper was of his favourite car, and folders were scattered about without meaning on his desktop. Eriko picked up the mouse clumsily and slapped it on the screen.
   “This how it works?”
   “Not quite…”
   The boy placed her hand and mouse back on the mouse pad and showed her how to properly operate it. The mechanism of it instantly clicked in her mind, and she didn’t even register the gentle touch of his hand on hers.
   He launched an internet browser. With a few swift hand motions he navigated her through to a public turnpike for discussion.
   “You see, there are all these chatrooms, right? If you click one…” He jumped through various conversations. Discussion of politics, music, anime, cooking, history, electronics the list went on and on. Exactly who you wanted to speak to and under what topic was curated perfectly. The power to connect people was here.
   Eriko swooned.
   "So these are people? Like, real people?"
   "Yes. They're sitting in front of a computer just like you."
   "It's like Neuromancer..."
   "What's that?"
   "Huh?" Eriko didn't even realize she was being asked a question. In the Net, there was no sound.
Soon after, she started to save money for her own computer. She stopped seeing the boy and immediately took on all the part time work she could at her age, even if it was forbidden by her school. Her parents, continuing to work on the farm, had no idea what had possessed her to offer so much extra help around the home. When she told them she was saving money for a computer, they shot the idea down.
   “Why spend all that money on a toy like that?”
   “It’s not a toy, mom.”
   “Wouldn’t you rather save the money for something important? Like an emergency?”
   “This is an emergency. I need a computer.”
   She really did. The scope of her town was becoming smaller and smaller, and Eriko longed to break free. If she couldn’t leave physically, then through cyberspace would suffice.
   "Let's ask grandma."
   "Grandma doesn't know a peach from a pear anymore!"
   "I heard that," chirped grandma from the room over. She waddled into the kitchen and pointed her sunken eyes at Eriko. "What's this about a computer?"
   "I absolutely need this thing, grandma. It's almost the 21st century!"
   "I will tell you this only once, Eri. That computer you want so bad will only continue to make the world noisier. That 21st century you're so excited for--I know better than anyone that it will be the century of the computer. I know it's an inevitability for you to get sucked in by those things, but I want things to be at least a bit more peaceful until my time is up. You'll respect your grandmother's wishes, yes?"
   Eriko bit her tongue.
    That was that, at least for the Fujioka household. Eriko took to her school and headed a campaign to allow student use of the teaching faculty’s computer lab in after school hours. She would campaign by herself, making new signs every week to parade around the halls, but no fellow students took up her cause, even the boy who had shown her the computer. After a month of failing to rally the masses she began to follow teachers around.
    “Mr. Sakamoto? Mr. Sakamoto? It’s about our computer lab.”
   “That again? Fujioka, I’ve been trying to talk to the principal about it, but it’s just too big of a question. Those things are worth too much to let students use them indiscriminately.”
   “Mr. Sakamoto, please. It'll soon be the 21st century. A computer should be the right of every student in Japan. Don’t you understand?”
   “I understand where you’re coming from, I do. But I just can’t okay something like this.”
   Eriko paused for a while and then looked him right in the eyes. “Mr. Sakamoto, I need to use a computer. It’s the only thing that’ll keep me sane.”
   Mr. Sakamoto looked at her for some time, and then gave up.
    “Alright, Fujioka. alright. I’ll let you use mine after school. But just you, okay? You can’t tell anyone about this.”
   And so, Eriko Fujioka logged in. She spent all her time after school in the computer lab on Mr. Sakamoto’s computer. She connected to people all around Japan and beyond, and it was greater than her wildest dreams. The deepest recesses of her brain blew wide open and opened the gates for a flood of information. The screen's blue glow wrapped her in its cold light and turned gears in her head that had never moved since ancient times. The world suddenly shrank to the size of her hand and she became its god, just like everyone else with a modem. And it was here that gods would convene and converse, like a digital Mount Olympus. She had become a new kind of human never before seen in history.
   It was there in the World Wide Web that Eriko Fujioka found herself.