She always liked Debussy. It's like floating on air, she would tell him. She lies back on her bed and spreads out like it's a cloud, and it's the only time he ever sees her truly soothed. Whatever's going on in her brain finally resonates with the world outside of her instead of it being in conflict with reality. Relaxed, disconnected, at peace.
At least, David hoped so.
Listening to Debussy now had the opposite effect on him, because it brought back memories of Eriko Fujioka so vividly in his mind. It wasn't the pianist's fault, no, and he was here for work--or curiosity, or whatever. The performance hall was full tonight, and he was seated on the balcony. From his vantage point the pianist was small, but her distance from the rest of the orchestra and the sheer size of the piano separated her clearly. Her long blue dress sprawled across the floor and formed something like a barrier around her, sparkling under the spotlight. Each note was played carefully, force where it was necessary, like she was playing for someone in particular as all good pianists did.
Afterwards he flashed badges as he made his way backstage and knocked on her door.
She eyed David apprehensively from the mirror, taking an earring off. The dress had long since been replaced with a regular pantsuit.
"Who let you in here?"
"I let myself in."
"I'm sorry, I don't give autographs or things like that."
"I'm not here for that." He flashed his NAB badge.
"I don't need to update my wi-fi plan either, thank you."
"This is part of another kind of investigation, unfortunately."
Later they sat in a small booth in some fancy Italian restaurant or the other. She ordered wine, but David drank nothing. Taking note of this, she let the wine sit in her glass.
"Yes. Have you heard from him at all in the last few years?"
"I have little to no memories of him in the first place, let alone the last few years. I was raised mostly by my grandmother, you see... both of my parents lived busy lives, and that became kind of disagreeable pretty quick. Actually, they met in a car accident. He was hurt, and she was his nurse. Their marriage kind of ended the same way..."
"My apologies for bringing it up."
"No, it's really nothing I can feel anything about. I was more or less an infant at the time."
"Have you ever tried to get back in touch?"
"Maybe once when I finished high school, and I had been feeling a certain kind of way... That I should be cleaning up the loose ends of one stage of my life before moving on to another. It didn't work out, though, and I quickly forgot about trying to see him as my university life began. There was one time, though..."
"One time I saw him again, I mean. I was hospitalized in grade school once while playing an online game. These sorts of stories are kind of common now or, at least, I read the urban legends online all the time in all sorts of different forms. No one believes me when I say it happened to me, and that the reality of it was probably nothing more than the conjurings of an eleven year old girl. But they're so intent on believing online..."
"And your father, you saw him again around this time?"
"Well, evidently, he was worried about me. I remember only once after I had woken up he appeared in my hospital room, kind of scary-looking in the dark. At the time I remember thinking it was a ghost, but whenever I think back on it now I feel a kind of conviction that it had to have been him. But I was so young, I can barely remember anything he said to me now..."
She looked at David quizzically.
"What is it you're interested in him about, if you don't mind my asking?"
"You're so polite."
"Well, playing the piano refines a person in a certain kind of way. I don't think of myself as particularly elegant or anything like that, though."
"It makes you a very good interviewee, though. I appreciate your cooperation in all this, Ms. Nimura."
David had failed avoiding the question.
"Your father is a person who has been of interest to the NAB for some time now... is what I'm allowed to say. And by ‘some time,’ really, I mean in the same sense a cold case sits in an archive for ‘some time.’ There's really no special reason I'm here today, except for the fact that I knew you would be playing here in San Diego, and I've been stuck on him for a while now."
"In what way?"
"Your father, well..."
He mulled over how much he could say to her.
"The NAB didn't exist when your father was, well, active. Back then it was more of the WNC's jurisdiction, and when we made the jump up to the new system we basically imported their backlog of work, too. Your father's case was one of those things that was simply never solved, but I've always felt it to hold a kind of importance."
What David really meant was that the missing persons case of Junichiro Tokuoka was the basis for his entire career as an FBI agent, and they had already exhausted all other entities pertaining to him, including Junka Nimura plenty of times before. This was not something he could simply tell a civilian, however, so he didn't.
"What kind of importance?"
"Do you remember that disk?"
"The one that started all of this."
"David, there are a million disks pertaining to our work. Be more specific."
"The one we got from Junichiro Tokuoka, all those years ago."
"You're on that?"
"I'm on that. What's wrong with that? It's the reason this taskforce was formed. Do you remember what that was like? The confidential briefings, the meetings with Coleman, the interviews with Sibyl Green. I was so much younger then, and it was exciting. Now I'm simply tired."
"What brought this on?"
"I met with Junka Nimura tonight."
"Dammit, David, can you please stop doing dangerous things without running them by me? Unbelievable."
"Yeah, I apologize. I just had this feeling..."
He stopped to think. The disk itself had weighed on his mind so long now he had nearly forgotten its presence.
A dark, black disk that was given to the FBI some years ago by a foreign resident of the US--Junichiro Tokuoka. The disk had contained, supposedly information that pertained to the fact that the servers of The World, the version now known as R:1, were to be destroyed. However, no more information beyond this was discovered. What Tokuoka promised as "the truth" was nowhere to be found--simply plans to destroy the servers. David, in his earliest days, had observed the interrogations of Sibyl Green, CEO of ALTIMIT and then managing director of CyberConnect Corporation. I know nothing, I hear nothing, I see nothing, she had told them. The servers were planned to be destroyed, yes, but not for any sinister reasons. The data would've been backed up and loaded on to the latest server technology to account for the player count which had just passed 20 million users. Don't ask me, she had said, ask Bain.
That was the only time David and Veronica Bain had been in the same room, before she was as important as she is now, still just an acting director of CC Corp. She answered questions just as plainly and matter-of-factly, and the issue was officially considered settled. Not to Alex Coleman, however.
The heart monitor and her gentle breathing fills the hospital room.
Tattered and cold, a man in a pink shirt stands before a little girl. Another man enters, much younger.
“How is she?” asks the visitor.
“She’s alright, I think.”
“She should be back to normal soon enough.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do.”
“Hm,” he said, and continued to look on at his daughter. How long had it been since he had seen her last? He wasn’t sure, but he could feel her presence all throughout the last few months. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he knew her name was synonymous with justice, that his risking his life for what he considered “right” was in truth to prepare a world ready to accept her. Now as he stared at her weak and asleep in the hospital bed, he could only think of what she’d look like ten, twenty years from now. Since the last time he had seen her she had grown almost double in size already. So will the world, he thought.
“I’ve confirmed the contents—everything you need is right here,” said the visitor. He produced a hard drive disk from inside his jacket and handed it over to the other man. He examined it closely, as if making sure it was the same one he had given the visitor earlier.
“You should keep this safe. I think it’s best if you disappear for a while, too.”
“I know, I know. I’m not exactly in the clear yet myself, huh? There’s the matter of breaking and entering an international corporation’s private offices, for one…”
“Those sorts of things can’t be helped. It’s natural in this line of work.”
“Don’t lump me in with you, please.”
“What’s that about? We’re both on the side of justice.”
“It just happened to be that our goals lined up this time. I don’t work with hackers.”
The visitor shrugged.
“What’s in it for you, anyway? Other than the satisfaction of taking down a major tech corporation. They fired me and hurt my kid--you, I’m not so sure.”
The visitor suddenly looked sullen.
“The force we’re dealing with here, what’s called ‘soul digitalization…’ it’s something the world should never know about.”
The man knew not to inquire much further.
“Like I said, keep that thing safe.”
“Trust me, I will.”
“Alright. Be seeing you, then.”
“I hope not.”
The visitor left, and the other man listened carefully until his footsteps disappeared.
Then Junko Nimura saw a ghost.
EXCERPT FROM INTERVIEW WITH SUBJECT, TO TABITHA KNOX
INTERVIEWER: Let’s start with your name.
INTERVIEWER: It’s nice to meet you, Junka.
NIMURA: Do you have a name?
INTERVIEWER: Oh, of course. My name is Vincent.
NIMURA: Nice to meet you.
INTERVIEWER: It’s nice to meet you too. Junka, do you know why you’re here?
NIMURA: I think I’m in trouble.
INTERVIEWER: No, you’re not in trouble. There are other people in trouble because they hurt you.
NIMURA: Someone hurt me?
INTERVIEWER: The people who put you in the hospital
NIMURA: No one put me in the hospital. I just got sick.
INTERVIEWER: While playing The World, right? Can you tell me about that?
NIMURA: I don’t remember it too well.
INTERVIEWER: What do you remember between the last time you played The World and waking up in the hospital?
NIMURA: I don’t know… it’s kind of like a dream.
INTERVIEWER: A dream? Well, I’m sure that’d be difficult to describe, as dreams are. Could you try for me, Junka?
NIMURA: I guess… I remember playing the game, and there was this guy…
INTERVIEWER: Did he look like this?
[SUBJECT VIEWS SCREENSHOT]
NIMURA: I think so. But, he was wearing some kind of cloak. A cape? Robes? I can’t remember it too well…
INTERVIEWER: That’s okay, Junko, take your time.
NIMURA: And then… I remember a flash. I remember feeling like my mom was close.
INTERVIEWER: Was she?
NIMURA: No, she’s usually working in Fukuoka. It’s just grandma and me most of the time.
INTERVIEWER: That’s too bad.
NIMURA: Not really, I like grandma. I don’t mind that mom is away most of the time too, since all she does is get on my case about not practicing the piano enough.
INTERVIEWER: And your father?
NIMURA: Actually, I remember him too. After that flash. I thought I was still dreaming, or that I had seen a ghost, but I felt like he was there in that hospital room staring at me… no one believed me when I woke up, but I also didn’t believe that my dad hadn’t come to visit at all. I know dad would visit me!
INTERVIEWER: A ghost? Of your dad?
NIMURA: Mhm. But… I know it wasn’t a ghost, because he gave me a present.
INTERVIEWER: A present?
[NIMURA PRODUCES A BLACK DISK FROM HER SHIRT POCKET]
This disk was analyzed to hell and back, but we were only able to find half of its information. The thing’s been tampered with—it’s missing a ton of information, looks like it was made purposefully unreadable. It doesn’t look like encryption—more like someone’s playing a game. I thought we should investigate Nimura’s father a bit further, but it doesn’t seem like he’s been seen anywhere either. In fact, he’s been missing since he was fired from CC Corp San Diego. There are records of him coming into Japan, but none of him leaving. So, one way or another, he’s still somewhere on those islands. Or he’s hitched a less than legal boat to Taiwan or something. In any case, I’m requesting this matter be brought up with the president, because it could create some serious economic tensions between us and Japan if it comes out that a Japanese resident working at an American company disappeared after getting roughed up over here, especially one that’s as important as CyberConnect. Also, this talk of “Soul Digitalization,” or whatever it is, is coming up a lot when searching around this case. I don't like it, personally. There are a lot of strange loose ends abound—I think we need an executive order of some kind by the president to give us more power to investigate it, since so much of it concerns Japan.
Before the next WNC meeting, please.