Chapter 8:

Chapter 8 - Crossing Paths

Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム

“Hoshino-san?” exclaims Moriyama Kyoko with her bright smile and pleasantly surprised eyes.Bookmark here

“Moriyama?”Bookmark here

I rub my eyes to make sure I’m not in a dream.Bookmark here

“What are you doing here?” I ask her.Bookmark here

“Huh? What do you mean what I’m doing here? I go to this university. What about you?”Bookmark here

“I also go here…”Bookmark here

“Eh?”Bookmark here

We talk as we walk towards our respective buildings, which turns out is in the same direction.Bookmark here

“To think that we went to the same university, what a coincidence? Must be fate!” she shouts excitedly.Bookmark here

Well, it’s fine, I guess. It’s not like there’s many people around right now. I look left, right, and behind. I see one person coming from the left, but he’s too engrossed in the thick textbook he’s reading to notice us. I turn back to her.Bookmark here

“Well, we didn’t actually tell each other where we go.”Bookmark here

“Now that you mention it, we didn’t, did we?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Instead, we just asked about our majors.”Bookmark here

“Yep.”Bookmark here

“That’s quite weird, don’t you think?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Do you plan on answering me with more than four letters that doesn’t start with a ‘Y’?”Bookmark here

“Sorry, I’m still sleepy. Didn’t get much sleep last night.”Bookmark here

“Is that so?”Bookmark here

We continue our walk in silence. We’re approaching an intersection in the path. Her building is to the left, while I have to go straight forward. She starts to turn before looking back at me.Bookmark here

“That means the other members of your team go here too?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, all five of us.”Bookmark here

“Five? Oh, the new kid.”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“You mentioned something about the game development club?”Bookmark here

“That’s right. We’re all members of it.”Bookmark here

“Mind if I drop by sometime then?”Bookmark here

“Huh? What for?”Bookmark here

“Oh, nothing.” She brushes her hair from her ear. “It’s just that I’ve never actually seen a university game development club. Except the one we went to at Urayama, of course. I’ve never actually seen one at work, so I kind of want to.”Bookmark here

“Well, I don’t mind.”Bookmark here

I tell her which building and room number we’re in. She pulls out her phone and types it in to make sure she won’t forget it. Before putting it back in, she reads it out loud to me once again to confirm. Once I confirm it, the phone disappears from my sight.Bookmark here

“Alright, then. I’ll drop by sometime. Later, Hoshino!” She waves as she runs towards her building.Bookmark here

I check the time on my phone and realise I’m almost late too.Bookmark here

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After classes, I immediately head to the clubroom. When I open the door, everybody’s there. Just like usual, everybody’s doing what they always do. When we’re not in a competition, we don’t really do anything. Shinichi with his book, Chinatsu with her phone, and Mitsuo with his guitar. Miura, however, is hunched in front of a laptop. I head over to the seats and put my bag down on a chair.Bookmark here

“What are you doing, Miura?”Bookmark here

“Oh, hi, Hoshino-san!” he says in greeting as he looks up from his laptop. “I’m just playing with Unify.”Bookmark here

“The game engine we use?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“Isn’t that Shinichi’s laptop?”Bookmark here

“I let him borrow it,” Shinichi says as he flips a page. “Seems like he thought it was fun designing the UI and the level and that he wanted to learn more.”Bookmark here

“Yeah!” Miura smiles widely. “It is pretty fun. Check this out, I’ve been trying to recreate the UI from several of my favourite games.”Bookmark here

He turned the laptop around and pushed it towards me. On the screen was a typical main menu with the buttons for Play, Settings, and Quit. Using the mouse, I go to the folder with the UIs he made. I open another one, this time it’s like an RPG, with a health bar at the bottom with mana on the left and hunger on the right. After that, I go through a few more. I’m a bit impressed, since they look pretty well done. But not only that, some of the buttons work, even if there’s not an actual game to play. Finished, I turn it back around and push it towards him.Bookmark here

“They’re pretty good.”Bookmark here

“You think so?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. So, you think you lean towards UI and game design?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I think so. It’s pretty fun.”Bookmark here

“That’s great then. And since you’re still early, you can still explore other aspects too and get a feel for what you like.”Bookmark here

He goes back to his experiments as I sit down. I look around the room – at my teammates, the walls, the desk, the cabinets. It doesn’t say game development club at all. Moriyama might be disappointed to see this. She had some expectations. Maybe I should tidy things up a bit. I check the time on my phone. She should be out of class by now, or maybe she came here before I did?Bookmark here

“Did anybody come here before?”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” Chinatsu asks, looking up from her phone.Bookmark here

“Did someone come to the club room besides us?”Bookmark here

Chinatsu shakes her head. “Nope. Were you expecting someone?”Bookmark here

“Not really…”Bookmark here

I stand up and take another look around the room. There’s a lot of leftover items from the seniors that haven’t been moved, and some are covered with dust. I pick them up and give them a good brush. I bring similar items together and put them in their own drawers. Useless or broken things, I throw out in the garbage bin outside. The others don’t seem to mind – they don’t seem to be paying any attention to me, in fact.Bookmark here

“What are you doing, Ken-chan?” Chinatsu asks, her voice tinged with uncertainty as I pick up an old, dust-covered sock I found under the cabinet.Bookmark here

“Just some cleaning.”Bookmark here

“I… see…”Bookmark here

I throw it out and come back to the clubroom.Bookmark here

“What’s the occasion?” she asks.Bookmark here

“No reason. I just thought that, uh, that the clubroom needed some cleaning. The seniors really neglected this place. We should have a room worthy of being a clubroom.”Bookmark here

“I guess that’s true… But why now?”Bookmark here

“I just realised it now, that’s all.”Bookmark here

“Okay… Let me help you then.” She puts down her phone and approaches me.Bookmark here

Together, we spend the next hour or so cleaning and rearranging the room. She even went to the janitor to borrow a broom and a mop. By the end of it, the room’s practically sparkling. There’s no more dust, and everything’s lined up neatly in their respective places. It still doesn’t look like game development club, but at least it’s presentable. Chinatsu writes out “Game Development Club” on the whiteboard in colourful combinations of blue and red, complete with sparkles, stars, and a heart.Bookmark here

“Wait, what does a heart have to do with game development?”Bookmark here

She puts the end of the marker to her chin, thinking seriously about the question. “I’m not sure, but it looks cute, doesn’t it? So, it’s fine.”Bookmark here

If it has nothing to do with it, then why have it there in the first place… But I decide to just let her have her way. It doesn’t really add anything, and nothing’s lost with its presence. Finished, we fall into our seats. I knew I was tired as I was cleaning up, but the fatigue’s only really set in now. My throat feels dry, and all my limbs feel taut.Bookmark here

“I’m going to buy some drinks. Anyone want anything?” I announce as I stand up.Bookmark here

Mitsuo and Chinatsu tell me what they want, while Shinichi and Miura say they don’t need any drinks. I go out of the clubroom and head towards the vending machine. There’s a single vending machine on this floor, right in front of the stairs.Bookmark here

When I reach it, I take out some coins from my pocket and insert them one by one into the machine. Every time a coin enters, there’s the familiar clanking sounds as the coin falls and goes through whatever mechanism allows them to differentiate one coin from another. Having inserted enough coins, I press the buttons for the three drinks I need to buy. With a loud, suppressed thud, each one falls into the compartment below.Bookmark here

I pick them up and carry them in my hands. I start to go back to the clubroom, but the window next to the vending machine catches my eye. The other windows all open to a tree, so you can’t really see anything except under them. But this one has no tree in front of it. In a small space between two large trees, you can see a small glimpse of the view beyond. I go there and put Chinatsu’s and Mitsuo’s drinks on the windowsill. I open mine – an orange-flavoured soda – and take a sip.Bookmark here

It would be nice if I could watch the sun set, but unfortunately this window faces east so I can watch the sunrise. But that would never happen. Who would come that early if they didn’t have to? But I know the sun is setting soon, and yet there’s no Moriyama yet.Bookmark here

Why am I waiting for her to come? She said she just wanted to drop by. She can do it, and she can not do it. That’s up to her, and it shouldn’t have anything to do with me. The thought of her not coming makes me relieved. She would probably be disappointed by what she’d see. But strangely, the same thought makes me feel disappointed. Do I want her to come? But how long am I supposed to wait? How nice it’d be if I could just pull out my phone, find her contact, and shoot her a message like “Hey, are you coming today?”. As if. I don’t even have her number.Bookmark here

As the carbonated liquid bathe my mouth with its sharp, orange taste, I realise something. I didn’t ask any of the other members. They probably wouldn’t care, though. Maybe Chinatsu would. She seems like she really doesn’t like Moriyama. Really doesn’t like might be an understatement. I never asked her why, but it’s probably the same as mine: because she kept defeating us so easily. It’s like all our years of hard work meant nothing to her. Simply put, it was unfair.Bookmark here

Half the can is empty. I decide it’s time to go to the clubroom. Picking up the bottles, I leave the window with the small glimpse of the eastern sky and walk alone towards the clubroom. There was no sound except my footsteps.Bookmark here

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