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Kazetrigger

.hack//Bullet Chapter 10

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10 Shadow

Late Sunday morning. The bedroom was completely silent.

Ryuuji looked at his Palm-PC, which was set on the bedside table.

Since returning from his “audience” with the “Empress” Veronica Bain last night, he'd left the power on. Ryuuji had returned to his room after eating breakfast and faced the monitor. He'd told Lilie to “go back to sleep.”

After he'd consented to Veronica's request, Ryuuji received a Flash Memory. Its contents were displayed on the monitor. It was a profile about Yuuri Seto, that is, Yuri Kazinsky Seto.

Yuuri Seto was born in Okinawa to a Japanese mother and a US military father.

Immediately after Seto was born, his family emigrated to the United States due to his father's transfer.

When Seto was six years old, his father died in a training accident.

He returned to Japan with his mother, and two years later she died.

He spent his high school years living with relatives of his mother.

He had tried his hand at hacking during his first year of middle school.

Later he went to Tokyo to attend the Department of Neurological Studies in the School of Medicine at Takeuma University*. He left school on the verge of completing his courses and going to graduate school. The reason is unknown.

At the age of 27 he caused the “Deadly Flash” incident.

Three photos of Yuuri Seto were attached to the report.

In the first photo, he is about to be placed in a car after being arrested at Washington Dulles Airport. He has delicate-looking features, dark brown hair, and black pupils. His face is raised while his arm is being twisted behind his back.

The second photo is from when he went to prison, the mugshots you get from the front and side.

The third photo is from just before he was released from prison. Unlike the previous two photos, he had a look as though he'd come to a profound realization, as, by this time, eighteen years had gone by.

What made this man decide to send out a murderous virus. What made him indiscriminately kill seven people? It was reported that his only motive was that he “seemed to want to show off the power of a hacker.”

CC Corp. San Diego got in contact with Seto about half a month after his return to society. He was hired and presented with exceptional rewards. He was placed in the “Security Adviser” post that had been prepared for him.

Then, he worked doggedly for nine months, hardly uttering a word. After ten months, he stole highly classified data and fled the country. His whereabouts were completely unknown, and the photos serve as a stark lesson as to why one should not leave security to one person like him.

The more he read it, the more Ryuuji became depressed.

If you follow the dogma “criminals repeat the same trick,” it was only a matter of time before he was trying to spread another virus through the network again.

The VR-Scanner that Seto stole contained highly-classified data. If it were the case that the VR-Scanner was a reflection of Seto's mind, and this were to exist in cyberspace, there's no telling what could happen.

What if Yuuri Seto, for example, woke up to “the ability to produce a new type of computer virus”?

Like an orphaned girl who produced a partner in the motif of a pet dog that died. Like the girl, whose only communication was through fighting games, learns martial arts to not lose to anyone in “The World.” Like the youth who—psychologically dependant on guns—becomes a specialist in operating small arms.

Things like that would have to be checked.

Ryuuji entered the home phone number of Mr. Yodogawa into his portable terminal.

Soon, Mr. Yodogawa's widow answered. There was a dark tone to her voice. It was to be expected. Not even ten days had passed since Kiyoteru Yodogawa died.

Claiming to be a person who had assisted the deceased, he apologized for not being able to attend the funeral, and told her that he wanted to pay tribute by offering incense to the spirit of the deceased. The answer came that she did not mind if he were to come anytime this afternoon. She said to come around one o'clock, and Ryuuji hung up the phone.

He'd be able to make it in time if he left right now.

In the living room Lilie was sitting on the couch and reading a fashion magazine for teens.

“Ah, Ryuuji...,” said Lilie as Ryuuji came out of the bedroom looking somber in a suit.

“Are you going out?” she asked.

“For a little. I'm going out to eat lunch,” replied Ryuuji anxiously.

He then asked a question in return.

“Why? Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing. Are you going to the office?”

“Ah, I may.”

“Well, bring the laundry, and have a good day,” said Lilie as she looked down at the magazine.

Upon exiting the apartment, Ryuuji started getting into his car.

As he drove along the boulevard, a small black eco-car came up behind him. It looked like a normal car you could see anywhere. Behind the wheel was a young man with sunglasses.

Along the way, Ryuuji bought pastries from a Japanese confectionery. When he got back to the road, he could still see the same black eco-car reflected in the rear-view mirror.

Ryuuji decided to make a right turn and continue driving for another five minutes. Turning to the right and proceeding a little further, Ryuuji made another right turn and proceeded back to the original road. The eco-car continued to say with him. Ryuuji pulled into the other lane and applied his brake to come up beside the black car, but as he did so, the eco-car passed him and sped off unexpectedly. Ryuuji was not able to see the driver through the reflective side-windows. The car got away.

It was tailing me, though Ryuuji. But for who and why? Righht on the heels of yesterday, it may have something to do with the meeting with Veronica Bain. No. Her coming to Japan wasn't supposed to have been made public yet.

While he continued to think, Ryuuji arrived at the Yodogawa household.

It was a respectable Japanese-style house suited to the name of Yodogawa.

Mr. Yodogawa's widow was a slender woman of nearly the same age as her deceased husband, with elegant and beautiful features, yet she looked older than the impression given by her voice over the phone.

Ryuuji passed her the pastries, then went into the Buddhist altar room and, after raising the incense to the simple white plain-wood mortuary tablet, sat face to face with Mrs. Yodogawa.

“You weren't Mr. Yodogawa's assistant, were you?” said Mrs. Yodogawa quietly after a few moments.

“That man was only ever interested in profits and protecting his own interests,” she continued blandly.

She had a thirsty facial expression.

“It was not like him at all to help other people...,” she added.

“Ahh, actually...,” said Ryuuji, sitting up straight.

“I run a Network Trouble Consultant business. It's like a detective agency. I accepted a consultation about work from your husband. I met with him last Sunday,” he said.

“I see,” she said.

“I heard about that from the police. It was you that reported it, wasn't it?”

Ryuuji nodded. Then, after a short pause, he spoke.

“That's right, it's true that I was your husband's assistant. I also worked for CC Corp. before, and during that time he kept an eye out for me. I wanted to return the favour, even if it was something small. It's very unfortunate.”

Mrs. Yodogawa's expression changed slightly.

Suddenly she began to sob. She looked away, and dried her eyes with a handkerchief.

“I'm sorry. I thought I'd be able to keep my composure...”

Ryuuji began to talk in an attempt to ease her mind.

“I'd like to have the portable terminal that your husband used, if that's alright with you.”

“Terminal? My husband's?” said Mrs. Yodogawa with a puzzled tone.

“Your husband had asked me to investigate certain confidential events. I cannot give details, but there's no telling what he might have left on the portable terminal.”

“What do you mean?”

“There's a possibility he was infected by a certain kind of computer virus,” said Ryuuji.


When Ryuuji left the Yodogawa residence, there in his hand was the the portable terminal committed to him by Mr. Yodogawa's widow.

Ryuuji recalled the events with Mr. Yodogawa at the “Seadragon.”

When Mr. Yodogawa tried to confide in Ryuuji everything he had hidden up to that point, he received a call on his portable terminal. He had to interrupt their conversation, and he left his seat to take the call. It was after that that things went wrong.

“Deadly Flash” causes problems to the functionality of the target's hypothalamus, driving someone mad.

Something had also driven Mr. Yodogawa mad at that time.

Or Ryuuji could just have been imagining things. Mr. Yodogawa jumped to his death after he received a phone call, but it might have just been a coincidence. He thought about it and if that were the case, there was no evidence that it had been merely a coincidence.

Since he had been driving while lost in thought, Ryuuji hadn't noticed the familiar black eco-car that appeared behind him like a shadow.

Oh my oh my oh my, thought Ryuuji as he looked in the rearview mirror. This guy seemed to be an amateur. He randomly came closer to the target so Ryuuji could sense the shadowing manoeuvre. Ryuuji didn't think the man even suspected that Ryuuji sensed his presence.

Ryuuji turned the steering wheel and deviated from the road that leads to his office, and instead drove to the city park.

He left his car in the parking lot facing an alley, then picked up an old magazine he had thrown on the back seat, and strolled inside the park. He found a bench under the shade of a tree, sat on the side facing away from the parking lot, and began to read the magazine.

After a short time, Ryuuji peeked at the parking lot reflected in the mobile terminal screen and saw the black eco-car parked there.

After another ten minutes he got up from pretending to read the magazine. Discarding the magazine in a trash bin, Ryuuji went to the public toilet. There was a small window across from the entrance. Ryuuji slipped over to the side and leaned over to open the window. He went through and came out in a parking lot by a large byp[censored] and hid in some nearby bushes. He was easily able to sneak around and come out behind the eco-car. He moved in a crouching position so as not to be seen in the side-view mirror, and knocked lightly on the driver's side window.

After a while, he heard the sound of the window opening above his head.

Ryuuji thrust his arm into the lowered window, stood up, and released the lock from the inside.

The young man who was sitting in the front seat gasped in surprise, and Ryuuji pushed hard with his arms to hold the young man still. He reached out and pulled the key from the ignition and dropped them at the man's feet. He then removed a candy from his breast pocket and held it out in front of the man.

“Do you like candy?”

The man's sunglasses almost fell off of his face. He stood rigid with his eyes wide open. He was too surprised to answer.

Ryuuji put the candy in his mouth and threw away the wrapper It was a lemon-flavoured one.

He sifted through the contents of the dashboard, and papers fell out. They were copies of car-rental documents. An address and name were written on the papers.

Ryuuji smiled as he thrust a stick of candy at the man's nose.

“Want a piece? Didn't they teach you not to carry around this stuff when shadowing someone?”

The man looked around restlessly and allowed himself to swallow his saliva. It seemed he could not cope with this overwhelming situation. Amazed at the situation, Ryuuji dropped the documents on the man's chest. Even though he must have been hired, he must not have been informed of how to handle this kind of situation.

“I'll save you the trouble. Now I'm going to go to my favourite supermarket. I'll be buying more candy. I like the taste of coffee, and at first glance this one looks like it is coffee-flavoured, but for some reason it tastes more like aloe. The taste of aloe is not that great, but I had a bad craving so I bought what I thought was coffee as I inadvertently mistook the taste. I used to like aloe to begin with... you've heard of it right? You got anything important to say now?” said Ryuuji.

As he spoke, he clapped his hand on the man's shoulder, the man's body quivering.

“See you. Do better next time,” said Ryuuji.

The man closed the door, picked up the key, turned the engine, and in a panic, made a sudden departure.

Ryuuji went back to his car after seeing the eco-car drive off into the distance in a cloud of dust. He was delayed by many unnecessary things.

He had a late lunch at a noodle place, then arrived at the office a little after three o'clock.

As Ryuuji walked from the parking lot towards his office, he stopped dead in his tracks.

In front of the door stood a tall man wearing a light hooded sweater.

The sunlight created an ominous silhouette out of the man. Ryuuji's body tensed up. Then it immediately relaxed.

“Good. I thought I'd missed you,” said the man—no, said this boy in a carefree voice as he waved his hand at Ryuuji.

It was Tokio Kuryuu.

*There are several other ways to interpret the name, but no matter which way I interpret it, it doesn't seem to be a real university.

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