Work, Please! ~From World's Greatest Sweeper to the Far Future's Salaryman~
“I am sorry, Mr. Kuroiwa. But I am afraid you are not qualified for this position.”
“However, we wish you luck in your future career endeavors.”
Those were the last words Mitsuo Kuroiwa heard as he closed the interviewers’ door behind him.
Kuroiwa heaved a sigh of exasperation as he sat down on a row of seats across another row—a row with more than ten other job applicants like himself.
Or rather, like himself, but only from first glance.
An e-billboard’s light glared from out the window, its neon purple light almost blinding Kuroiwa. A video played out on its screen: a patronizing commercial featuring a young boy, their cybernetic cat, and two girls acting as workers for one of the three biggest megacorps in Neo Shibuya.
The Neo Shibuya Consultation Agency. It was a name that betrayed its purpose. Its power and reach were beyond any ordinary corporation back in Kuroiwa’s day. The Neo Shibuya Consultation Agency was no mere consultation agency for the government; it was, in fact, as good as an actual government.
But that was beyond Kuroiwa’s concern right now. Way beyond.
He was too concerned with his recent job rejection. It had been the second failed interview today, and the tenth overall this entire week.
The man’s focus shifted to the line of interviewees on the other side of the hall.
Between two burly men in line was a skinny man dressed in a black business suit, not any more expensive or fancy than the one Kuroiwa wore. He fiddled with his hand from what seemed to be a bout of nervousness.
The man’s index and middle fingers began to unfurl. Mechanical innards revealed themselves, as both fingers split into five other, much smaller fingers. The young man fiddled with those appendages, continuing his assumed coping with nerves.
Kuroiwa looked at his own hand. I’ve nothing like that, he thought. I’m only human, after all.
He stared at another applicant: this time a man who looked to be about his earliest thirties, and a slightly bulky build, not unlike Kuroiwa himself. The man appeared normal at first, until his eyes began to dart from side to side, up and down, and even rolling back into his head and back to normal again—all within two seconds.
The first time Kuroiwa saw this a month back, it caught him by complete surprise. But by now, he’s just done with it.
And here it comes.
A blue, holographic notification appeared above his head, with the simple words ‘Download Complete!’ scrawled on it.
That guy’s getting the job.
To his surprise, no one in the room seemed to take issue with this young man doing what he did. He couldn’t understand how it was possible and why it was even allowed in the first place, but he asked a colleague about it a few weeks back.
Somehow, a man like him could connect to the Local Area Network, and download all sorts of necessary skills and abilities from the people in the room. All the way from voice, mannerisms, up to every ounce of knowledge they learned from an entire college course.
All in a fraction of a moment.
It wouldn’t usually be possible if no one was around to connect to the building’s WiFi. Kuroiwa knew that it was a big shame. Everyone in this room had to connect their big ‘ol brain to the internet—by no choice of their own. It was government mandate.
Kuroiwa didn’t have to connect his brain to the web, of course. Neither could he really, even if he wanted to.
His brain was all gray matter, all organic. It was nothing like the brains of every other person in the room, whose minds were nothing more than an ethereal blue of data, their essence more digital than physical. Everyone had a cyberbrain, if Kuroiwa’s terminology was correct.
Kuroiwa stood and marched out of the hall, down the stairs, and out the building. There really was no reason for him to stay any longer, and the more he stood by, the more the insecurity would eat him away.
Eight o'clock PM.
“Time to head home. Pretty damn late already.”
As he exited the building, a parade of lights and neon assaulted his senses. Purple, blue, pink, red—every discernible color lined the city's streets as if competing for headspace and attention from the common passerby. Skyscrapers lined the sky above Kuroiwa, some almost doubling the height of those he’d seen in Tokyo many years ago.
Signboards and advertisements decorated every other corner, featuring mundane food products, all the way to complete synthesized AI girlfriends and boyfriends that you could apparently just have delivered to your doorstep.
The city’s radiance drowned out the moonlight. At this point, Kuroiwa had already lost track of when the daylight ended, and nighttime began.
Hordes of people walked the streets of Neo Shibuya, going in all directions. A clash of fashions and styles littered the streets; some dressed in nothing more than rags, others in garish, excessive clothes that just screamed ‘money’.
The only constant between them: They weren’t human.
At least not in the way Kuroiwa knew.
Kuroiwa’s stomach rumbled.
“Damn. I’m hungry.”
Kuroiwa had endured an entire day subsisting on nothing but rice crackers, but even someone like him had their limits. It was time to eat something with just a bit more substance.
“Guess I’ll just grab something from the vendos and head straight home.”
He scoured the streets of Neo Shibuya, searching for a vending machine that he knew sold food. But as luck would have it, he couldn’t find a single one. It shocked him that he could not find even a single vending machine within five minutes.
Damn it. Weren’t these things everywhere back then?
He scrambled the damp walkways of the city, peeking even in the darkest alleyways and shadiest corners to search for that one vendo he saw earlier.
Rows upon rows of fast food chains passed him by, with offerings of great food and decent accommodations. Kuroiwa, unfortunately, wasn't having any of that. He thought it was way out of budget.
And he didn’t feel like interacting with another person tonight.
But most of all, he lamented the absence of any mom-and-pop establishments in this day and age. The last thing he’d heard of them was that they were now unwanted and unwelcome in this brave new world. Fast food chains were the rage these days, though it was unfair to call them a ‘trend’ when they were the only ones around.
Five minutes turned into ten, and ten turned into twenty. Kuroiwa wandered into a particular alley, with only a few dim street lights illuminating the smelly, pothole-ridden ground.
And at the end of it was his salvation.
A single vending machine, still lit and stocked, selling cup noodles.
“Hooo, mama!” he exclaimed.
Kuroiwa frisked his pockets, trying to feel for where he’d put his wallet. He also checked if all his belongings were intact.
Smartphone? Check. Census ID? Got it. Gun? That’s a check.
Kuroiwa spent a good moment feeling the contours of his pistol. It was a handy, easily concealed six-chambered revolver— his M206 38. One of the only things in this crazy time that kept him at ease. The one thing that felt like home to him. The only thing that felt real.
He continued to search himself, eventually finding his wallet in a pocket within his business coat. Kuroiwa checked how much he had on hand right now as he made his way in front of the vending machine.
Okay. 100,000 yen on hand. I don’t have much.
It was a line of thinking he never thought he’d have in his entire lifetime, or rather a thought he wished would never cross his mind.
The curry cup noodles he loved so much stared him in the face from beyond the glass window of the vending machine. He could swear it grew a mouth and laughed at him.
That same small serving of cup noodles cost 6,000 yen. Fine, whatever, he thought as he fed the machine a 10,000 yen bill.
Kuroiwa’s beloved cup noodles tumbled down the chute, landing into the receptacle below.
Ooh baby, give me the curry goodness.
Kuroiwa’s mouth watered at the prospect. He could only eat this good every once in a while; in his current state, cup noodles were as close to fine dining as he could manage.
In less than a moment, a shadow darted into the alley. The sensation of a round, steel gun barrel pressed against the back of his head. It was a familiar sensation to Kuroiwa. He was no stranger to this situation.
“Drop the cash, serbico.” a deep, emboldened voice threatened from behind.
Kuroiwa sighed as he raised his hands in the air.
“Hey, buddy. Chill out. I seriously don’t have much on me.”
Kuroiwa surveyed his surroundings and the man behind him.
He couldn’t make out what his assailant looked like, but he could profile him from his voice and the way the barrel shook alone. This person was a male youth, probably in his twenties or thirties. Scared, most likely had never killed a man in his life.
Around him were old, rusted pipes mounted on stone walls. Two streetlights, and walls in front and behind.
The assailant’s gun clicked. He pulled back the hammer and readied to fire. “I ain’t kidding, man! I don’t care how much, just give it to me already!”
Kuroiwa sighed. Imagine robbing a destitute man.
“I’m not in the mood to deal with another bozo today.” said Kuroiwa. “I don’t feel like giving you a second chance.
By the way, have you killed anyone recently?”
The last question threw the man off-guard.
Kuroiwa drew his revolver like a flash of lightning. He pointed it upwards and fired upon the rusty pipes.
Ping, pong. A single bullet ricocheted a dozen times through steel and rock in a split second. The bullet pierced the assailant’s head. In one side, out the other.
His body plopped dead with a heavy thud.
Kuroiwa had yet to even glance behind him. He then stowed away his pistol back into its holster.
The thought of killing a man he knew not the face of didn’t faze him in the slightest. It was the other thing that he was no stranger to in this world, even if this was the first kill he had made since his awakening.
After all, he was once a 'sweeper'.
A gun for hire. A man whose sole purpose was to end the life of another. The kind of mercenary a layman can hit up in their local bar for a cheap, easy kill. And even after all this time, those skills have yet to fade.
Kuroiwa collected his cup noodles and checked the vending machine’s change slot.
There was no change.
“Tch.” he clicked his tongue. “Stupid thing. Fine. Keep the four-thousand.”
Kuroiwa walked out the alley. He glanced behind him just to see the face of the man he had felled tonight.
A man with a purple mohawk and a black, punk outfit. Multiple piercings on the ear and nose. Average build. Blood poured out both holes in his head. A silenced pistol spilled from his grip.
Cyberbrain or not, a clean headshot still kills a man.
That night, the Sweeper made his way back to the suburbs by train and foot. Resigned to a peaceful night with his curry cup noodles, he passed the moonlight worried not with the life he had taken nor its consequences, but of what he had to do tomorrow.
If I don’t get a new job soon, I’m probably gonna end up on the streets. Can’t pay this damn rent.
The following morning, 9 o'clock. The city’s lights had died down, giving the sun a chance to shine upon Neo Shibuya.
Kuroiwa made his way to the southern parts of the city, where he had a meager part-time job waiting for him.
In some dilapidated, barely maintained overhead pass, he met a peculiar figure:
The man he had slain the night prior.
Kuroiwa eyed him incredulously, as the same punk looked at him with an oddly peaceful look, complete with a gentle smile, and a saintly aura about him. He carried himself like a well-meant preacher than the thug he was last night.
“Hey, what gives? I thought I shot you last night.” said Kuroiwa.
“Ah… good sir!” he said with that same deep voice, but with a vastly at-peace inflection. “I apologize for my transgressions last night. I have realized the errors of my ways.”
“Uhh… what?” uttered Kuroiwa, his mouth agape. “How are you still alive?”
“Oh, my good sir! The authorities have found my body and have discerned my wrongdoings. Mine Ghost had been found safe and my body was remade anew. But as penance, mine Ghost had its aggression data removed, and my next life will be spent in indentured servitude to whichever corporation would be deemed appropriate.”
“Buddy, I have no idea what you just said. I’m happy for you though, or sorry that happened. Now excuse me—I’ll be late for work.”
Kuroiwa bulldozed through the man in a hurry. The former punk stepped aside and raised his palm as if to bless Kuroiwa.
“May peace be with you, sir!”
Tch. People can’t even stay dead now.
Kuroiwa, the Sweeper, rushed through the busy streets of Neo Shibuya, to his part-time job.
A meager convenience store clerk job was all he had for now—any prospects of better work had eluded him since the three months he had awoken in the new world.
A future over a hundred years from his own. A neon-lit, dirty, and alien world masquerading as the Tokyo he once knew. He was the only human within miles of strange cyborgs that wore human skin.
And in the future, Kuroiwa, the world’s greatest sweeper, could not even manage to be a sweeper.
All he was now was a jobseeker.
And most of all,
Kuroiwa was still hungry.