Chapter 8:

The Sweeper and 100-Yen Value

Work, Please! ~From World's Greatest Sweeper to the Far Future's Salaryman~

   That day, Neo Shibuya received a grim reminder.Bookmark here

   The e-billboards all around the city tuned out of their usual programming. What replaced them was the live feed of a single individual, a kitsune mask concealing their face, with some voice filter warping their voice beyond recognition when they speak.Bookmark here

   “Present day. Present time!” the masked one announced from beyond the screen, following with insane, maniacal laughter. “Hahaha! Did you forget about me, Neo Shibuya? Perhaps my absence for a few months has made you too comfortable in your own little boots. Look at you pathetic worms, wriggling about this god-forsaken city like aimless, instinctual insects. A sad sight. A sad sight, indeed!”Bookmark here

   No matter what happened, the citizens of Neo Shibuya usually remained unflapped even during times of mass rallies or destructive protests, but somehow the appearance of this figure caused the world to stand still for everyone; People stopped in their tracks just to behold the mysterious broadcast.Bookmark here

   “Ah. Nekolain is back.”Bookmark here

   Nekolain.Bookmark here

   A known cyberterrorist in Neo Shibuya. A scourge upon this society. A mysterious figure who has appeared multiple times in the past few years, and every time she made her presence known, this was how she conducted herself. No one could figure out how she could hijack every frequency in Neo Shibuya, and any efforts to stop her from doing so have been futile. And every time her phantom would appear before the masses of the city, she would do so just like this, comparing the city’s inhabitants to mere insects, or even worse.Bookmark here

   “You make me sick, Neo Shibuya. How pathetic it is that even through your best efforts, I could still hijack your frequencies this easily. I would like to think this is a testament to my genius, but perhaps the truth is that your way of life is simply too far below mine. I am way beyond your comprehension.” said Nekolain while the voice changer continues to warble their arrogant, hubristic voice.Bookmark here

   “But enough of this. Let’s see how you fare once you are disconnected from the Phoenix program once more!Bookmark here

   Let’s have our periodic check-up, shall we?”Bookmark here

   Nekoalice raised their hand on-screen and snapped their fingers.Bookmark here

   The broadcast ended right after.Bookmark here

   And then the lights went out.Bookmark here

   Nothing was spared. Not a single screen, billboard, streetlamp, nor appliance could withstand that ‘snap’. The power shut down in every city block in Neo Shibuya. Even the electric companies couldn’t restore power to the city, and nobody could figure out how or why; why Nekoalice held the ability to shut out even public utilities.Bookmark here

   But despite the grandiose display of this so-called ‘Nekolain’, people simply went about their day and scattered in different directions. “They’ll restore the power soon enough.” said a citizen or two, putting complete faith in their government. After all, the worst she has done is shut off the grid for a few hours at best. Even though this disconnected them from the central cyberbrain, the worst that could happen was somehow dying while the lights were out; your restoration data would be a few hours behind if you were diligent about feeding data back into central. Worst case, your consciousness would be a week or a month behind in updates.Bookmark here

   The worst happened.Bookmark here

   A squad of gun-toting hooligans emerged from an alleyway and opened fire upon the unwitting populace of Neo Shibuya. Bullets sprayed left and right with no regard to who or what they would hit. Blind, unchecked violence ran amok. Citizens ran in all directions seeking cover, but all that did was make them susceptible to stray bullets and mass trampling.Bookmark here

   Blood and oil poured from the dead, and the gutters ran red with the blood of the innocent—the so-called ‘worms’ and ‘insects’ Nekolain despised so. Coagulated sanguine flooded so much that it began clogging the drains, that all that excrement amassed into horrific, crimson masses.Bookmark here

   Speaking of excrement clogging the drains, was a distant incident elsewhere from the murderous terror at the heart of town.Bookmark here

   Many hours later, in what was once the Asakusa district of Tokyo, existed a quaint bar named ‘Nirvana’. Even in the daytime, this shop would blare out its neon lights, inviting passersby to drink at any hour, any day of the week. At night, Nirvana glows exceptionally well even in the midst of a night-aligned, brightly lit city.Bookmark here

   Or it would be, if the power was active tonight.Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa parked his bike on its porch, then secured its locks with chains attached to the wall. Kuroiwa donned his usual black business jacket, but he’d gotten himself a bright, red tie and a clean white polo to compliment his look. This was where he worked now after all, and he had always been the type to dress for the job he had, not the job he wanted.Bookmark here

   He entered Bar Nirvana, its subtle and gentle purple light cast upon him like bright moonlight in the countryside. Slow and familiar jazzlike music played from speakers hidden from plain sight, while a glass clinked from the counter a few meters at the end of this small bar. Inside were a mere three other people: a petite girl wearing a blue and white windbreaker lounging near the piano, a long-haired man in a red formal suit by the counter, and a bespectacled woman with shoulder-length hair serving drinks to that same man.Bookmark here

   “Hey there, Yui,” Kuroiwa greeted the lady with glasses. “Didn’t think this place still worked with the power out.”Bookmark here

   Yui poured out a shot glass for the patron sitting in front of her. “You can never be too ready when Nekolain’s still out and about. I fired up the generator asap after the outage.” said Yui. “Perfect timing, by the way,” she claimed while gesturing with her head toward the washrooms at the back. “Major turd’s stuck again. I’m gonna need you to scoop it up and toss it out back.”Bookmark here

   “Again?” said Kuroiwa with a sigh. “What am I, the local plumber?”Bookmark here

   “As long as you work here, you’ll be whatever I need you to be.”Bookmark here

   “Okay then,” said Kuroiwa as he started to chuckle. “You ever needed a boyfriend?”Bookmark here

   “I don’t date plumbers.”Bookmark here

   “Ouch.”Bookmark here

   “Heehee!” laughed a young girl’s voice from over the piano. Kuroiwa turned towards her and eyed the young lady with a menacing gaze. She responded with a haughty, catlike smile and bared her toothy grin at him. “How many times have you tried to hit on Yui now?”Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa huffed and crossed his arms. “And how many times have you sung to the patrons, oh mighty Moonlight Nanami, the laziest idol ever?”Bookmark here

   “Don’t look at me like that! With Nekolain cutting power periodically, I can’t get a bead on the newest and coolest musical trends to download into my databanks.”Bookmark here

   “...You’ve had literally four-plus months without a Nekolain incident, right?”Bookmark here

   “Well, yeah,” said this lass with a shifty expression that made it clear she was making up excuses as she went. “I need a looooong time to DL my shiz though, and my net is slow.”Bookmark here

   “Liar! Your bandwidth is way faster than anything I have seen in my time.”Bookmark here

   “Hey, get off my back! I’m subscribed to the slowest plan! I need INS-PI-RA-TION.”Bookmark here

   Nanami pointed into another corner of Nirvana and made Kuroiwa aware of the existence of a five-foot-tall teddy bear leaning on the wall. “By the way, Sei left you a little something earlier. Again.”Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa wondered how he didn’t sense the presence of such a huge object just sitting around. Perhaps he was tired or lacked sleep, but the most likely case was that all he had in mind was the thought of cleaning yet another pile of human waste, just like last week. The sight of the gift roused him and made him shrug.Bookmark here

   “Ugh. Sei’s really nice and all, and I’ll forever be thankful for the bike, but…Bookmark here

   Can she not send me gifts every week? My apartment’s looking like a junkyard with all the trinkets she’s been giving me!”Bookmark here

   “Oh yeah,” said Nanami as if she had a eureka moment. “Right! Last time she gave you the—”Bookmark here

   “The chunky as hell CRT TV, yes.”Bookmark here

   “Heehee!” laughed Nanami. “Are you excited for the week she finally gives you a jumbotron and turns your apartment into the local baseball center?”Bookmark here

   Yui slammed down a bottle of whisky, turning Kuroiwa’s attention to her again. She leered at him with a gaze that could pierce even the thickest animal hide, and said, “Do you… hate the Boss’ generosity? Is the Boss making a mistake treating you with the kindness you do not deserve?”Bookmark here

   “No, wait, Yui, I—”Bookmark here

   “You will like the Boss’ gifts. Or I will kill you.”Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa winced, then followed with a deep sigh of resignation.Bookmark here

   “...Tell Sei I said thanks.”Bookmark here

   Nanami’s bratty laughter followed once more.Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa took off his jacket and put on a green, more unfashionable jacket meant solely for custodian duties within Nirvana. “I think I’ve overstayed the welcoming party, so I’ll get the shit outta the can.” said he, grabbing an oddly traditional set of toilet cleaning tools and a bucket. He passed the man in red by the counter and asked:Bookmark here

   “Pub later, Murai?”Bookmark here

   The man, whose name was Murai, scratched his head, troubled and frustrated. “Sorry man, no can do; gotta hop to work after this. There’s a lot to be done after the attack in Shibuya east earlier.”Bookmark here

   “Oh yeah, the one with Nekolain,” said Kuroiwa while wetting the mop in the bucket. “How bad’s the workload?”Bookmark here

   “Pretty bad. The power was, and still is out, so getting everything sorted out for the Phoenix program is a mess.” begrudgingly said Murai, who was one step away from pulling his hair out.Bookmark here

    “Phoenix… program?”Bookmark here

   “Oh right, I don’t think I’ve told you.” said Murai, educating Kuroiwa. “It’s pretty complex, so I’ll spare everyone the grueling details. Basically, I gotta help sort out the victims who want to be rebuilt as they were, or to end their current life and start from zero again. Not to mention I need to pass verdicts on the assailants, as a basic lawyer service.”Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa poured liquid soap into the bucket, and observed as the white bubbles foamed at the surface; its consistency weak and supposed soapy odor non-existent, demonstrating just how much chalk was already diluted into the detergent.Bookmark here

   “You lawyers really have your work cut out for you, huh?”Bookmark here

   “You bet. It’s a stimulating job though; it never gets boring and pays well. Have you considered becoming one?”Bookmark here

   “If I even had the qualifications, but I don’t. And even if I did, I’m pretty much done passing judgment on other people’s lives.”Bookmark here

   “Hmm…?”Bookmark here

   Yui poured Murai another shot of whisky on the rocks, while cutting off their conversation at the same time.Bookmark here

   “Murai. I’d rather you didn’t try to poach my people.”Bookmark here

   “Oh, hah.” laughed Murai gleefully. “Sorry, barkeep. My bad. I wouldn’t dream of taking away a good man from your ranks.”Bookmark here

   “...I’d rather you didn’t inflate his ego, either.”Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa headed straight to the toilets at the back of the bar and found the culprit of today’s clogging. It was hideous. It was huge. And it made Kuroiwa wonder just what kind of goblin had taken a dump in Bar Nirvana’s wonderful(overstatement) washrooms. Even the floor was flooded toe-deep in water, while a putrid, evil stench permeated the four walls of the room, almost like smelling everyone’s cooking in an apartment block at the same time, combined with the flatulence of a sickly bovine. It was enough to nearly make Kuroiwa wretch on first contact—thankfully his experience handling corpses made him more resilient to such olfactory assaults. The excrement was proof that some sins truly cannot be forgiven.Bookmark here

   Such was the beginning of Kuroiwa’s arduous journey to toss out a solid slab of colon meat into the dumpsters outside. Armed with only cheap, cut-corner detergent, a bucket, a mop, and a plunger, would the sweeper fell this great foe, like a hero against the dragon that threatens the land. Except the dragon smelled strange, foul even.Bookmark here

   …It was a long campaign. The toilet had to remain closed for the entire night, while Kuroiwa spent his whole shift trying to liberate Bar Nirvana’s washrooms from its oppressors.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa emerged tired and fortunately sanitized from his nightmare of a shift. He drove a different route home to calm himself, driving through what was once Shinjuku Gyoen. The park looked similar to what it was in the past but reduced to half its size, with only emergency lights lighting the path. The place was completely devoid of visitors, sans Kuroiwa himself.Bookmark here

   With a soft hum and sounds of machine churning came the return of light. Thankfully, as he entered the park, the city’s lights came back simultaneously, bringing back the full illumination of the road and seeing new, safer routes open up to him. Kuroiwa found that this park was, oddly enough, untouched by all the neon lights and oppressive technology of the rest of Neo Shibuya. Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa pulled his bike over near a small pond with old, rusty boats shaped like giant swans chained to a nearby pier. He went up against the railing and took in that stale, freshwater smell.Bookmark here

   “I’m so very tired,” said Kuroiwa to himself, lamenting his crappy day.Bookmark here

   “I’m just happy I got a stable, paying job, but damn… gotta wonder if this is really all there is. Makes you wonder if I should’ve just forced myself to become a sweeper in this day and age.Bookmark here

   …Who am I kidding? I’ll probably die to some behemoth walking-armory type of guy. And then that’ll be all she wrote.”Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa took out a single 100-yen coin, tossed it into the air, and caught it repeatedly. He continued to lament his situation, saying, “My boss is super cute but doesn’t wanna give me the time of day. Dammit, why do gangster girls have to be so damn hot…? That makes Sei and Yui both. Goddamn.”Bookmark here

   Well, it’s not like they’re human anyway. We ain’t of the same planet.Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa thought as such, but he wouldn’t mind dating a robot at this point. Conceptually, it wasn’t any different than dating a girl from a video game, or falling in love with one’s fleshlight—though Kuroiwa could at least admit he was way above either of those things. He did know a few clients and victims who were into them, however.Bookmark here

   He palmed the coin, leaned on the railing, and began considering his options. He stared at the coin, then into the pond below.Bookmark here

   “I don’t know how much a hundred yen can really get me anymore, but gods don’t have human economy, right?” said Kuroiwa, smiling. “So if you gods or kami exist, just… I dunno. Give me a girlfriend. Maybe make her a hot, slender foreign-looking blondie? No, no.” denied Kuroiwa, shaking his head.Bookmark here

   “You know what? I think a redhead would be a lot of fun. Make her slender but give her some good badonkers. And maybe like, have animal ears like Chigusa. I thought those were super cute.”Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa then tossed the coin into the pond. It broke the surface with a satisfying plop.Bookmark here

   Not even five seconds later, something emerged from the water.Bookmark here

   Perhaps gods and kami do exist in the world.Bookmark here

   A young woman surfaces from underwater, splashing everywhere like a mermaid emerging on the coastline. Her long, scarlet locks glistened even amidst the park’s old streetlights, and a soaked, black one-piece dress clung to her slender body, its plunging neckline exposing an admirable chest size on this lass. On her head were a pair of silver, metallic antennas that resemble more cat ears than anything.Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa’s jaw dropped. He had just witnessed the birth of a miracle right before his eyes. The sweeper was never a believer, but he was just about ready to convert to whichever religion grants wishing pond requests like this one.Bookmark here

   The woman clambered the railing and stepped into the road. She swept her drenched hair aside to reveal her bright, crimson eyes, and then squeezed her dress like a sponge. Kuroiwa took a step back to err on the side of caution, even though his dream girl had just emerged from some old pond. He could never be too sure about anything.Bookmark here

   She walked up to Kuroiwa at half an arm’s length away, her height only reaching up to his chest. She smells like citrus, thought Kuroiwa as he couldn’t help but take a whiff of her amazing scent. The girl stared him in the eye, and Kuroiwa stared back. He felt every single second pass, and his heart thumped like he were in the heat of battle.Bookmark here

   “So it’s true…” she said in a low, sultry voice. “You don’t seem affected. Could you remove your shirt, please?”Bookmark here

   “What?!” exclaimed Kuroiwa, taking a step back. “I—You don’t need to step on the gas like that!”Bookmark here

   The girl nodded inquisitively as if she were a scientist making a big breakthrough. Her expression changed in an instant, turning from calm, then to frightened. She changed her tone and stated, “Help! You need to help me, sensei. There’s a stalker after me!”Bookmark here

   “A stalker? But—”Bookmark here

   “We need to go now, sensei!” she said in a panic. “He’ll kill me if he sees me with another man.”Bookmark here

   “Then I’ll just—”Bookmark here

   “Please!”Bookmark here

   She made puppy dog eyes at Kuroiwa, looking more like a wounded gazelle than some siren who had just surfaced from the sea to drag sailors down the ocean floor. At that moment, he felt his sanity erode and his defenses shatter. She looked exactly like the girl of his dreams—his wishes. He was falling under whatever spell she cast, and he knew it. And consented to it. There was nothing left to stop him, not even self-preservation.Bookmark here

   The girl passed Kuroiwa and rushed over to his bike, pulling the hem of her dress to cover her leg as she rode it. “Let’s hurry, sensei!” she said in agitation.Bookmark here

   “What the hell?” shouted Kuroiwa. “Why are you riding my bike?!”Bookmark here

   “Well, we need to get outta here before the stalker gets to me.”Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa felt his danger sense kicking in again, dispelling the charms she had laid upon him at first meeting. “If it’s a stalker, I can just dispose of him easily.”Bookmark here

   The girl’s expression shifted again, her eyes narrowing and a wry smile plastered on top of that once panicked, vulnerable look she once had.Bookmark here

   “Now, now. You don’t want to leave this poor girl hanging, right?” she said arrogantly. “You’re wet and smell like my shampoo now. I don’t think you’d want to be pegged as my stalker. You could lose your job, you know?”Bookmark here

   Kuroiwa stepped toward his bike with heavy-set stomps.Bookmark here

   “What do you want?”Bookmark here

   “Oh, sensei. Don’t be like that.Bookmark here

   I just wanna head to the dry cleaners.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.