Chapter 14:

Chapter 14 - Mitsuo and His Music, Part 1

Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム

I’m standing in the hallway in front of the room. There’s a lot of people here; coming, going, chatting. Everyone seems like they belong here, except me. I feel like a fish out of water. I don’t know where to look, what to do. All I can do is just stand here and wait for Moriyama. As if on cue, I hear her sweet voice calling me from behind.Bookmark here

“Hoshino, over here!”Bookmark here

Turning around, I head to her just as Chinatsu returns from the bathroom. The technical meeting only requires one person from each participating team. As the team leader, it’s a given that I’m attending. Moriyama too has a reason to be here: she’s our point of contact with this event.Bookmark here

But Chinatsu… She basically demanded to be here. Something about not wanting me to be alone together with Moriyama. Just what sort of monster does she think Moriyama is…?Bookmark here

“Let’s go,” she says. She turns around and leads us down the hallway, towards the entrance into the conference room.Bookmark here

We’ve managed to get this far, to actually take part in the technical meeting. It feels kind of surreal that just a few months ago, we were still just joining game jams and doing nothing more than that. But now, we’re here at the technical meeting, preparing to show our game to the public. It feels unreal.Bookmark here

The conference room isn’t as big as I imagined it to be. It’s a pretty spacious room. I’d say it could hold up to 800 people, maybe even a thousand. Lines of uniform, turquoise-coloured chairs are neatly arranged. They’re all facing front, where a sheet-covered desk and a projector screen have already been prepared.Bookmark here

We sit down not too far from the front and wait for it to begin. Not long after that, people start flooding into the room and the committee members take their seats at the desk in front. Once everybody was assembled, one of the committee members stands up and announces the start of the technical meeting. They introduce themselves and proceed to start the presentation.Bookmark here

There isn’t much to talk about from that presentation. It’s just a bunch of directions, instructions, important information, and rules. Chinatsu’s taking pictures of each slide. I guess she’s actually doing something here.Bookmark here

It ends quicker than I thought it would. Just like how we entered, people start streaming out of the room in a more or less naturally occurring line. And then we would go out, eat, and go home. That was how it was supposed to end. If it weren’t for a single, instantly recognisable voice that called us over from the hallway.Bookmark here

“Hoshino! And Chinatsu?”Bookmark here

Keisuke makes his way towards us with a confident stride, his shoulders high. You don’t have to come over here. It’s completely fine if you stay over there, I keep thinking to myself, but of course he can’t hear that.Bookmark here

He stops in front of the three of us. I’m standing firm. I don’t want to seem like I’m cowering before him, so I make sure I stand my ground. Chinatsu’s looking at him with eyes that are showing how hard she’s concealing her fury. But Moriyama looks at Keisuke as if he were a bug that she’d like to crush under her heel. I think Moriyama’s scarier than Keisuke right now…Bookmark here

“Hey, Chicchan, it’s been a while.”Bookmark here

“Don’t call me that.”Bookmark here

“Come on, what’s with you two and those hostile looks?”Bookmark here

His gaze turns to Moriyama. His smug expression quickly turns into one of annoyance.Bookmark here

“And what are you doing here?”Bookmark here

“Hm? Oh that. I think the answer is it’s none of your fricking business.” Moriyama’s smile is so pure, but I’m not feeling any purity.Bookmark here

“Huh, so you finally gave up and joined with Moriyama? Realised you weren’t going anywhere with that team, huh,” he says, casting his attention back onto us.Bookmark here

“Just for your information, I asked to join them,” Moriyama says.Bookmark here

“Oh, I thought that it’s ‘none of my fricking business’?”Bookmark here

“You made it my business when you started talking like that.”Bookmark here

“Well, Moriyama or no Moriyama I doubt you can improve that much,” he says, smirking. “So, what sort of mediocre game have you got lined up for Artfes?”Bookmark here

“Just you wait. We’re going to sweep you off your feet. We’re going to blow you up.”Bookmark here

Uh, you mean blow you away? Chinatsu’s weird phrasing aside, this conversation isn’t going anywhere. It’s time to leave.Bookmark here

“Come on, let’s just leave. There’s no point talking to him,” I say before turning around and walking towards the exit.Bookmark here

Chinatsu and Moriyama follow my lead. As we’re walking, he calls out again after us.Bookmark here

Good luck with that mediocre team of yours. It’ll be good entertainment at least to have you appear.” He’s laughing at his own joke.Bookmark here

As we get farther away from Keisuke, I start speaking to the two behind me without turning.Bookmark here

“Let’s destroy them. Let’s make this the best damn game those people at Artfes have ever seen.”Bookmark here

With that determination in mind, I walk out of the building and go straight back to continue our work. With this team, we can definitely do it.Bookmark here

But the moment I walk into the clubroom, my confidence begins to waver. Mitsuo is sitting there, strumming his guitar and humming a melody. I hope he’s working on the song. Today’s Friday. His deadline was Wednesday. Of last week. His work has been excruciatingly slow. Mitsuo’s always been slow, but he was never this slow before. I approach him as Chinatsu and Moriyama get to work.Bookmark here

“Hey,” I greet him.Bookmark here

“Hey, Kenji,” he says, turning around. “Technical meeting all done?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Anything important?”Bookmark here

“Not really. Anyway, how’s that song coming along? Are you working on it right now?” I point to the guitar.Bookmark here

I’m trying to prod him in the right direction without coming off as too accusatory. If Mitsuo feels he’s being accused of not working so straight to his face, he might dig in his heels and decide I’m not gonna do it. I can’t have that. We need that song, and he committed to making that song for the team.Bookmark here

“Oh, that? Nah, that was just me having some fun.”Bookmark here

“So… what about the song?”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, I’m working on it. It’s going along nicely.”Bookmark here

“It was supposed to be last Wednesday… but if you need the time, I guess… Can you finish it by today?”Bookmark here

“Ah, that’s a little tight. Tell you what, I’ll finish it by tomorrow.”Bookmark here

We don’t go to campus tomorrow though.Bookmark here

“I’ll send you a recording so you can hear it at home.”Bookmark here

“Sure, I’ll wait for it.”Bookmark here

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The next day. I’ve been waiting for it since morning. Now it’s 10 pm, and I’ve just finished some work. The recording didn’t come.Bookmark here

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It’s Monday, and I go in the clubroom like usual, still recording-less. When I open the door, Mitsuo’s not here yet, but everybody else is. We say our greetings before I take my usual seat.Bookmark here

“Has Mitsuo been here yet?” I ask.Bookmark here

“No,” Chinatsu says as she squints her eyes at her screen. “He hasn’t said anything on the chat too.”Bookmark here

“I see…”Bookmark here

“Is something wrong, Ken-chan?” Her head pops out from behind the screen, her big eyes staring right at me.Bookmark here

“No, nothing. Just something to do with the music.”Bookmark here

I decide to just wait. This isn’t really something I can talk about with the others. One of them might say something to him, and he might get offended. Or maybe the others think like him: that this is completely fine. It’s not, I confirm to myself. We’re not just making this game for fun, and he’s completely disregarding his responsibilities.Bookmark here

It takes another half an hour before Mitsuo finally shows up. I’ve been filling the time with working on the game. Finally, the door opens and Mitsuo enters, a guitar case on his back.Bookmark here

“’Sup, guys?” he says as he enters and closes the door behind him.Bookmark here

He brings his hands together and bows comically.Bookmark here

“Sorry I’m late! I was talking with some friends from class and totally forgot the time.”Bookmark here

As everyone replies, he calmly makes his way to his seat while he hums a melody I don’t know. After waiting a while, I stand up and walk over to him.Bookmark here

“Hey, Mitsuo,” I say, trying to stay as calm, normal, and friendly as possible.Bookmark here

“Hey, what’s up?”Bookmark here

“So, I was waiting for the recording on Saturday, did something happen?”Bookmark here

Mitsuo’s eyes widen. Rubbing his neck, he sighs.Bookmark here

“Right… I was supposed to do that.”Bookmark here

“Well, what’s done is done. So, is the song finished?” I’m hoping he just forgot to send it and that the recording is somewhere within his phone or laptop, ready to be heard.Bookmark here

“Ah, not yet” he says. “But don’t worry, I’ll definitely finish it by today.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure?”Bookmark here

“Of course!”Bookmark here

“Because that’s what you said last week too, but it still isn’t finished by now.”Bookmark here

“I promise you. It’ll definitely be finished by today.”Bookmark here

“Well, if you say so,” I say, trying to believe his words. “Since this one’s got pretty late, you’d need to finish the next one quicker than anticipated. I’ll move it back a bit, but I don’t think we can move it back that far. Is that doable? You should just tell me now if it isn’t.”Bookmark here

“When might that be?”Bookmark here

“Around two weeks before Artfes, at the latest.”Bookmark here

“I’m sure I can finish everything by then.”Bookmark here

“You sure?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Alright. Please don’t be late like this again. It’s going to throw off our schedule, you know?”Bookmark here

“Got it!”Bookmark here

With that, I go back to my seat and continue my work. I still don’t fully trust his word, but there’s nothing else I can do. At least, this time he’s said his commitment in front of everybody, so I have everyone to back me up if things come to shove.Bookmark here

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It’s one hour past midnight, and I’m sitting next to my bed looking at my phone. I have my chat with Mitsuo open.Bookmark here

How’s the song coming along? I ask.Bookmark here

It’s the only message from yesterday, which ended an hour ago. So far, there’s no reply. He hasn’t even read it. I send him another message.Bookmark here

Mitsuo, how’s the song?Bookmark here

And then I wait again for another half hour. I spend the time reading, but the words leave my head as soon as I read them. My eyes constantly flit to my phone, sitting right next to me with the screen facing up.Bookmark here

My eyes have been getting heavier and heavier. I don’t think I can stay away much longer. I check my phone one last time, but there’s no change. There’s still no news from him.Bookmark here

“Damn it,” I mutter to myself.Bookmark here

I feel my anger and frustration build up inside me. But to keep it all in is too much, so instead I hit my bed really hard once. That way the neighbours can’t complain, but I can release this energy.Bookmark here

With a heart full of anger, frustration, disappointment, and sadness, I go to sleep at 1.30 am.Bookmark here

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It’s the next morning. When I open my eyes, light is streaming through the glass door leading to the balcony. Unable to raise myself from the bed, I stay there looking at the ceiling as I adjust my eyes to the brightness. I reach around, trying to find my phone which I left next to my pillow the night before.Bookmark here

Feeling its plastic, rectangular shape, I pick it up and bring it to my face. One tap from my finger and the screen lights up, sending my eyes crawling back behind my eyelids as the brightness threatens to blind me. But when I open my eyes, a sight I have been waiting for has finally arrived.Bookmark here

Mitsuo sent a file.Bookmark here

The excitement and relief pull me up. Sitting on the bed, I rub my eyes and open the chat.Bookmark here

Hey! Sflr, forgot to send it yesterday lolBookmark here

That message reads 9.34 AM. I check the time and it’s now 10 AM. He’s late again, I think. But better late than never. Before I reply to him, I want to listen to the song first. I click it, and after it finishes downloading, I grab my earphones and listen to it.Bookmark here

I listen to the digitally produced song Mitsuo sent me. It’s 2 minutes and 14 seconds long and is designed for looping. After listening to the entire 2 minutes and 14 seconds, I take off my earphones.Bookmark here

Well… The song isn’t bad. But it doesn’t fully capture what I was asking for. This was expected. That’s why I set the deadline earlier than I actually needed it, so that there’d be time to make changes. But he’s this late so… On the other hand, the song doesn’t fully fit the vibe of the game…Bookmark here

I send him a message.Bookmark here

Hey, thanks. I listened to it. It’s good, but…Bookmark here

I list out several of the issues I thought the song had. But fearing he might be slow again, I add at the end:Bookmark here

How long do you think this’ll take? If it’s too long, then I’d rather not risk it…Bookmark here

I close my phone. It’ll probably take Mitsuo some time to reply. I raise myself from the bed and look in the fridge, but there’s nothing to eat for breakfast. After brushing my teeth, I grab a jacket and a pair of trousers and put it on, then head out to find some food.Bookmark here

When I first came to this apartment, I was looking forward to the freedom and fun. My university is actually close enough to home, but I eventually managed to convince my parents that I wanted to experience and learn how to live alone. Because those words seemed very mature, my parents agreed. Rather childishly, I thought of how I could eat whatever food I wanted for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.Bookmark here

But of course, I completely forgot about budget. My first month here, I almost ran out of money. I managed to hold out until the end of the month when I’d get an allowance from my parents, but it was just barely. Ever since then, I’ve tried to eat economically. That mostly consists of onigiri rice balls and convenience store bento lunch boxes. They’re not the best, but they’re good enough for their price.Bookmark here

“Welcome!” shouts the part-timer behind the register.Bookmark here

I immediately head towards the section with onigiri and bento. I don’t know what I should go with today. Maybe salmon or tuna onigiri? Or a simple chicken cutlet bento? I stand still in front of the choices for a while, pondering.Bookmark here

“Hoshino?” asks a soft voice from the side.Bookmark here

I look to my left and to my horror, it’s Moriyama. After the initial surprise passes, I realise that I’m disheveled. I haven’t even taken a shower. My throat becomes dry, and I just barely manage to say something.Bookmark here

“M-moriyama, hi,” I say weakly. That was so lame.Bookmark here

“Oh, it is you. Guess you just woke up, huh?” she smiles. “We seem to accidentally meet a lot. You’re not by any chance stalking me, are you?” She playfully squints her eyes at me.Bookmark here

“Of course not! And just so you know, it’s me who lives around here. So maybe, it’s you that’s stalking?”Bookmark here

“Oh really? Then my bad. I’ve been caught.” She turns to me with a smirk. “Just kidding. I’m going to meet a friend near here, but she’s running late. Are you buying breakfast?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“I’m hungry too, but not for a full meal. A snack’s enough for me. Let’s eat together. Can I chill at your apartment while I wait?”Bookmark here

“Sure.”Bookmark here

Wait what?Bookmark here

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