Work, Please! ~From World's Greatest Sweeper to the Far Future's Salaryman~
“It’s that commercial again. Heh.”
Kuroiwa stared at a distant billboard playing out a usual, unabashedly corporate commercial featuring a young boy, their cybernetic cat, and two girls acting as workers for one of the three biggest megacorps in Neo Shibuya.
It was the commercial that Chigusa had starred in—CGI’d out dog ears and all.
The other girl…
A woman decked out in worn but sturdy-looking purple plate armor approached him, holding out a Kevlar vest in front of her. Her short, green hair billowed in the night wind, giving her a graceful feminine charm underneath the hunk of metal they called ‘power armor’.
“Ser Kuroiwa, please don’t forget to wear your Kevlar.”
Kuroiwa thumbed in the direction of the distant billboard. “Still hard to believe I’m standing in front of another superstar.” he said with a smile.
“Stop it, Ser Kuroiwa.” said the armored lady, a bead of sweat racing down her cheek. She had a strained smile that hid a bout of embarrassment. “I was naught but an extra in there.”
The lady clipped the armor on top of Kuroiwa’s plain red shirt. The way she handled Kuroiwa was supremely gentle and caring, betraying her tough and battle-worn exterior; it reminded Kuroiwa of a mother’s touch.
Not that he’d admit to knowing the feeling.
From that one piece of vest, multiple shoulder pads and armguards emerged from seemingly nowhere. “Sorry, Security Knight Sei. I’m just not used to wearing Kevlar.” said Kuroiwa, smoothing out any protrusions and weird placements in his armor.
“It is fine! I reckon moving in lighter armor proves an easier task than moving in power armor like these.” said Sei, tapping the protruding bump on her chest piece.
Her cheery expression turned into a serious look—looking more like a mother telling her child a mantra than a commanding officer instructing their subordinates.
“Now, remember the slogan?”
“Oh, yeah.” said Kuroiwa, adjusting the looser parts of his ‘high-tech’ Kevlar armor. “Protect and serve, right?”
“Correct, Ser Kuroiwa. We, the Security Knights…”
“... Swear to protect and serve the public of Neo Shibuya, and to keep Neo Shibuyan society clean and pure from all indecent elements.” continued Kuroiwa from where Sei had left off.
“Nice! You remember.” said Sei, clapping her hands daintily.
“No thanks to you, Security Officer Sei. I wouldn’t have memorized it this easily if you hadn’t drilled it into me for the past week.”
“Ser Kuroiwa.” Sei crossed her arms, pouting. “It seemed that part had not been engraved unto you just yet. Did I not say you needn’t call me with my title of Security Officer? ‘Sei’ will do just fine.”
“But wouldn’t it be disrespectful to a commanding officer?”
Damn. She really is like someone’s mom.
A week had passed since Kuroiwa jumped into this job. Shinada directed him to an acquaintance of his after he said ‘he knew a guy’.
It turned out that it was no guy, but a gal.
Her name was Sei. She was what was called a ‘Security Knight’, a special kind of government enforcer that was in charge of protecting civilian property and businesses from violent outbreaks. Though much like a lot of government-owned things nowadays, even Security Knights had begun to be privatized.
Sei’s security firm was one of them.
Her firm had a grand total of one member: her. The government funded her in secret for no other reason than to hide the privatization of Security Knights.
Armed to the teeth with power armor and heavy duty energy-based weaponry, Security Knights were seen as a symbol of power… and oppression to some, even though they held no more sway than a SWAT member of old.
A week had already passed, and not a single threat of violence crossed their path in all that time. Every day was a new area deployed in, but all in all Kuroiwa thought it was an easy job.
They paid well and by the week, too. Kuroiwa’s mouth watered at how much he’d get paid at the end of the day: enough to pay out his outstanding rental debt.
Today, Sei and Kuroiwa were assigned to protect a five-floor building housing a certain law firm, its name escaping the sweeper turned security guard at the moment.
He had a feeling it would be another boring day. That didn’t matter though. Money is money.
Both Security Knights stood by a fountain just outside the certain building.
“Say, Sei.” said Kuroiwa, unaware of the pun he had made. “Do you and Chigusa know each other?”
“Ahh. Chigusa. The other girl in the commercial? I’m afraid we could barely consider each other acquaintances. She was a sweet girl, however. Quite timid, but she does have her moments of passion.”
“Like when weird tech is involved?”
Sei chuckled in delight. “Heh. I take it you’ve met?”
Kuroiwa looked up at the night sky, flooded with Neo Shibuya’s lights. “Yeah. Just a little over a week ago, actually. We shared a few chats online but not much else.” He then dusted himself and looked over yonder with a solemn look. “Pretty much the first and only friend I got around here.”
Sei pouted and crossed her arms again. “Ser Kuroiwa!” she giggled. “Am I not considered to be your friend?”
Kuroiwa sensed he might've made a mistake. He feared for his life. And employment.
It was time to make a saving throw.
“Well then.” said Kuroiwa. “I just thought it might be a form of disrespect to consider my C.O. a friend.
Sei laughed and patted Kuroiwa on the shoulder.
“Nonsense! We are the only two members of my own security detail. As far as I am concerned, I make the rules. I’ve many reasons to privatize myself, and this is one of them.”
Kuroiwa let out a hearty laugh. “Oh. I didn’t realize you felt that strongly about it.”
“Indeed I do.”
After a short pause, Sei spoke out again.
“As proof of our friendship, might I share a secret with you?”
“O-oh, sure. Shoot.” said Kuroiwa, his voice quivering. He didn’t think someone like Sei would jump at the opportunity to share secrets with him.
“Between you and I… I am not keen on government oversight.”
“Whoa, really? That’s a surprise, coming from you.”
“It is true. I truly believe in Protect and Serve, but bureaucracy can and does get in the way of that. Serving as a Security Knight like this gives me more freedom to do what I do, in the way I see fit.”
“I see.” said Kuroiwa, his face slowly twisting into a mischievous grin. “So, translation: You’re feeling a little rebellious?”
“Oh, perish the thoughts of dissent, Ser Kuroiwa.
But yes. You could say that.”
Sei giggled in earnest, like she was a young, teenage girl instead of the usual mature, commanding officer she was.
The two continued to stay vigilant throughout the night. They patrolled every possible entry point into the building, and flashed lights into windows of rooms that could be hotspots for infiltration and burglary.
11pm. Almost midnight. A thick fog enveloped the street.
Thunderous footsteps marched from beyond sight. It was that familiar sound of anger, rage, and unorganized steps that tipped him off. Another group of rioters.
“Ser Kuroiwa. Do you hear that?”
“I do. I know that sound anywhere. Those are rioters grouping up.”
“I am impressed. You were able to identify the threat on sound alone. You will make a great Security Knight.”
“Really now?” Kuroiwa said in a silly voice and wide grin. That goofy expression evaporated in an instant, as the next second he switched to a more serious swagger. He pulled out his revolver and spun the barrel.
Fully reloaded and with several boxes of bullets waiting for him back in Security Knight HQ, he was ready to unleash hell.
On the other hand, Sei was quite unwilling to pull her weapon out just yet.
“Sei? Aren’t we busting these guys?”
“Hold your fire,” said Sei. “As a Security Knight, it is our duty to prevent the onset of violence before we engage in it.”
Really? That’s not what it said in the handbook.
Indeed, that was not what was said in the handbook.
Sei stretched her arm out at Kuroiwa, signaling him to not engage in any actions.
A whole squad of rioters emerged from the fog, numbering anywhere from thirty to forty members. They looked almost like the same lowlives from the other day, from how they dressed, their colored, mohawk hair, all the way to the molotovs and huge rocks they carried.
Kuroiwa’s trigger finger was itching. There was no way to confirm these were the same people, or rebels just had a dress code, but he was hungering for a little payback.
“Halt!” shouted Sei at the approaching crowd. “State your intention with those makeshift bombs in your hands.”
The crowd stopped, standing at a great distance between the two opposing parties. Two punks at front glanced at each other and shrugged.
“This chick for real?”
A third rioter—one dressed more plainly than the punkish attire of the rest of the crowd, stepped forward. From his gait alone, one could tell that this man was their ringleader. The undeniable swagger and aura made him look like some prince or general.
“We’re here to fuck shit up, you dumb broad!”
“D-dumb broad?!” muttered Sei. Her eye twitched and her hand curled into a fist.
Kuroiwa noticed the agitation growing in Sei.
He had every intention of using that slight as an excuse for conflict.
“Hey bozos!” shouted Kuroiwa. He recognized the mug of every single rioter marching on the front row. It was the same group that had razed Poppy’s to the ground the last time. His muscles tensed up and his grip on the revolver tightened. “You assholes were at Poppy’s last time too!”
The ‘leader’ grimaced and yellow back at Kuroiwa, “Yeah, the fuck you want?”
Kuroiwa pointed his gun straight at him. “Asshole! I remember you! You were the guy who tried to fill an entire KFT bucket with soda.” He aimed his gun straight in the direction of this ruffian’s temple, holding back every urge to shoot him this very second. “How many times did try it on my watch? Four? Five?”
“Who cares, man? I do what I want!”
“Well, your bucket filling days are over, buddy! I’m sending you to the cyber realm, or whatever you call your damn afterlife.”
The leader stomped forward and shouted back at the armed man aiming at him. “I. Don’t. Care! We’re here to put an end to Kengo Law Office. You can go fuck off elsewhere.” The crowd cheered him on, their wrathful wrong filling the foggy streets with an air of rebellion. “Those guys busted our mates and gave ‘em a bunch of memory wipes for what, petty theft?”
Kuroiwa turned to Sei, surprised and baffled. His grip on the trigger lightened up, as if he were hesitating putting this man to death. “Law firms are handing out sentences now? I thought that was up to a judge and jury, and a courtroom.”
“Yes, that is indeed the case. Only high profile cases get the honor of a courtroom nowadays. How do you not know this?”
“Well, sorry. I was only born three months ago.”
“What do you mean by that, Ser Kuroiwa?”
“It’s a long story.”
The rioters’ ringleader grew antsy as he watched both Sei and Kuroiwa have idle chit-chat right in front of him. “When you girls are done kissing, can we get to the ass kicking?!”
Kuroiwa turned his attention back to the rioting crowd.
“I’m talking here!” he shouted.
“Who gives a rat’s ass?!”
The ringleader thrust out his arm and pointed at the Security Knights. He signaled a ‘go’ as if he were some old time general in an old-school war scene. All he needed was a war fan to complete the look.
“Let’s get ‘em!”
The crowd behind the man began to march at a steady pace towards them. Some brought out their homemade molotovs, while others dragged steel bats and other blunt weapons through the ground.
Kuroiwa laughed under his breath.
“You know, I sympathize. There’s a lot of things I don’t like about this world. I feel you. You wanna rage against the machine.”
He pointed his gun straight at the rioter crowd, and shouted,
“But I’m really fucking poor right now!”
Kuroiwa pulled the trigger. A round left his revolver’s chamber, as a loud bang roared across the street. His shot pierced the ringleader’s head. His body dropped dead, circuitry and blood escaping the hole in his skull.
The crowd’s advance halted.
Kuroiwa called out to Sei. “I don’t know about you, but I was beyond parlay from the start. Shall we?”
“Heh, parlay?” laughed Sei. “You start using words like that and you shall truly make a great Security Knight.”
Sei drew a blade from her back, its form much like a broadsword, but a large gap stretched the entire length of one side of the blade. With the flick of a wrist, she ignited a mechanism from within. A thin beam of light extended from one end to the other, glowing a purplish-white.
The sight of this blade intimidated the rioters. They began to backpedal, as Sei strode towards them. Their faces grew pale as they beheld the Security Knight approaching. Kuroiwa could only see her from behind.
Wow, is she really that intimidating?
Sei stomped the ground just meters away from them. Her heavily armored boots ruptured the pavement beneath. The two punks in front collapsed to the ground, falling on their butts.
“Call me a dumb broad. One more time.”
The two men began to cower. Their teeth gnashed and they moved back with each step Sei took. “That wasn’t us! It was that guy!”
Sei’s face darkened. Her stern face twisted into that of sadism, her pupils dilated and toothy grin on full display. She held the blade with that of an iron grip.
And all hell broke loose.
Sei cut down several ruffians in one fell swoop. A few slashes of her blade tore the cybernetic arms off several rioters, then with each row she cut down, she immediately moved to the next. Her movements were swift, and the excess of her strokes gave Sei an aura of savagery.
The lowlives couldn’t stand a chance. When one wound their bat above their head, her blade struck them down. When one drew rocks from the ground, she severed their limbs.
In no time at all, the streets became littered with the wreckage of augments and body parts. It was starting to look more junkyard and less public thoroughfare. Kuroiwa could only witness Sei’s barbarity from a distance.
“Oh. When do I get to shoot?” he mumbled, unable to pinpoint a single uncompromised target from the crowd. Kuroiwa stood in place, his jaw dropped watching his well-mannered commanding officer go to town.
He was no avid moviegoer, but he could’ve sworn he’d seen this kind of scene only in action movies: a single hero who could fell an entire squad by their lonesome. It was like a panel out of an action manga—he’d never seen a single person take out droves of mooks like this in real life.
Sei, in all her fervor, erupted into an anger-filled spiel.
“You damn punks! Dont’cha ever talk that crap to me! Not. To. My. Face!”
Kuroiwa observed the change in her speech almost immediately.
What the hell am I looking at?
The punks could do nothing but offer a pocket resistance against this beast ravaging their ranks. That was when their fear peaked, and the realization set in.
“It can’t be… that strength…!” screamed one of the punks in great terror.
The very mention of that name struck even more dread in the hearts of the rioting crowd. With just the utterance of the name, any sliver of morale they had tonight simply evaporated like a puddle in the desert heat. They then decided it was time to make a mad dash out. The rioters retreated, panic finally settling in. They ran the opposite direction, vanishing into the night and the fog.
“We’ll get you next time, IZUMI!” they shouted as they cowered into the shadows.
Splashes of oil, blood, and circuitry were strewn all over where the rioters once stood. As the fog cleared, Sei’s true body count revealed itself for Kuroiwa to see.
Her body count was zero. Every single cut was precise enough to cut limbs and other body parts, but not to kill anyone.
Ironically, only Kuroiwa had a confirmed kill.
A cloud of smoke blasted from her armor’s sides, heating the air and raising temperatures in her vicinity. Her power armor was not merely red from the blood, but also from heated metal.
“Come back here! I ain’t done dicin’ you up just yet!”
Kuroiwa began forming a mental image of her.
The way her demeanor changed, and her inhuman combat prowess. The mannerisms and her gait. The feeling of rebellion. Imagining a breeze blowing a white, long coat with rough and extreme looking kanji characters crudely painted on the backside. A blade poised on her shoulders, like a wooden sword—a bokken. She would look back with a single withered reed in her mouth, then spit it out.
She’s just like a…
A silent moment passed. Sei then collapsed to her knees.
Kuroiwa rushed over to his commanding officer. Up to now he hadn’t seen her face in all the chaos, and he grew worried that she may have suffered injuries.
“Are you okay, Sei?”
When Kuroiwa came up to Sei, he surveyed her armor and body.
Sei… looked strange.
Her face was flushed, not with anger, but with a different expression entirely. Red not with rage, but of a more… sensual feeling. Sei’s arms were stretched down the waist, her hands grasping her lower regions. She wiggled in bizarre ecstasy. Her expression was that of joy, and more appropriately, satisfaction.
“Oh, no… Ser Kuroiwa. What should I do? It seems I’ve picked a strange time to reawaken this side of me. Oh, dear.” said Sei, her voice wobbling in delight.
Kuroiwa smiled nervously. He hadn’t seen Sei like this in the short time he’s met her. Was it a red flag? Something that would jeopardize his payout later?
“What… was that?”
“Please, Ser Kuroiwa…” begged Sei. “Tell me what I should do. IZUMI’s coming out again.”
“Izumi? Who’s ‘Izumi’?”
“About that.” said Sei, twiddling her fingers like a schoolgirl confessing to their crush.
“It’s the name I went by back in my juvenile years. My biker name. Oh dear, being called a slur really got me going back there. My, oh my.”
“Wait… so you were…”
“Yes. A delinquent. A rebel by any other name.”
Kuroiwa’s eyes widened. He wasn’t shocked, but rather in awe. He was as a young boy discovering that their seatmate actually had the same favorite dinosaur as him. He could only reply with a curt, “Damn, that’s awesome.”
“Ser Kuroiwa, I…” said Sei, her words transforming into a raspy, sensual voice. “It’s been so long since the rush of battle has made me feel like this.”
Kuroiwa eyed her incredulously. Just when he thought he could see nothing crazier, Sei sat there proving him wrong. It dawned on him that, perhaps, there really was no escape to the increasing absurdity of this world.
“That’s insane.” said Kuroiwa, impressed. “Actually, that’s kinda badass. Excuse the language.”
Sei, with sweat running down her face and neck, pondered whether Kuroiwa’s respect for her had diminished. She turned to him and asked, “Are you not threatened or disgusted by my unsightly behavior?”
“Not at all. In fact, I think I'd be more comfortable making a friend out of someone like you.”
Sei giggled, her temperament and her body cooling off simultaneously. “I see. To be fair, I’d more comfortable having a friend who is more merciful than I.”
“Ser Kuroiwa, I had delivered a punishment much more grave than yours.” said Sei, tossing aside a wrecked cybernetic arm away from her leg. “A dead man is reconstructed on death, incurring only a long standing debt. A man who's lost half their being must pay to be repaired on the spot.”
“Well now,” said Kuroiwa with a nervous laugh. “I’m not sure which one’s worse, to be honest.”
Sei and Kuroiwa shared a laugh, their laughter echoing in the now emptied-out foggy street. Kuroiwa pulled his colleague up back to her feet as she wobbled side to side like an inebriated woman.
“By the way,” said Kuroiwa. “Can I ask you a question, Sei?”
“Please, feel free.”
“I think you did the heavy lifting today. And now you’ve awoken your alter ego, or something.”
“Yes? But it is fine, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but what I’m saying is…
I’m still getting paid, right?”