Chapter 10:


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

Kuroiwa and Shiyuri sat across each other on their own plastic chairs, while Chigusa watched over both of them like some benevolent but ever-vigilant arbiter in court. “I see. So that’s what happened,” said Chigusa with an understanding nod and a sigh of relief. “And here I thought you were engaging in a bout of public indecency. Silly me!”

The sweeper sat silently, his hands supporting his chin while a dreadful shadow obscured his face in an unpleasant way, as if even the room decided to highlight his frustrations at the situation. Shiyuri, on the other hand, kept a smile in front of Chigusa, as she reassured her with a simple, “Yeah, that’s what happened. I’m sorry if our little accident caused you distress,” followed with Chigusa’s “That’s alright!”.

Despite the initial embarrassment, things were where Shiyuri wanted to be.

The troubled human, and the ‘Code Reader’ Chigusa.

They were all gathered in one place.

Plans have a magical way of sorting themselves out.

Shiyuri had set up an alarm in her internal clock that counted down to a precise moment a few minutes ago. Initially, Shiyuri wanted to taunt the human, Kuroiwa, into getting them both into a compromising position with he as the aggressor and her the helpless, defenseless young lady.

And while being in a risque position caused Shiyuri endless embarrassment, in the end, Kuroiwa was still ‘not quite in the right’, so to speak.

I may have lost some dignity points in our exchange, dear Sensei. But in the end, I always win.

“So, uh…” Kuroiwa stuttered trying to grab the attention of Chigusa. “What brings you here so late in the evening—err, so early in the morning, rather?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” said Chigusa, lifting her compact basket of laundry. “I come here every now and then to do my laundry. But I don’t like being around too many people, so I come here in the wee hours of the morning.”

“I see. That’s something.”

“What about you? Do you come by this late to get your laundry done, too?”

“Not exactly…”

Both Sensei and Code Reader were friendly towards each other. Shiyuri assumed that trying to gain Chigusa’s favor by debasing Kuroiwa further would only work against her. She needed to get on the girl’s good side somehow, though the accident may have already painted everyone in the room in a somewhat cordial light.

She went up beside Kuroiwa and patted his shoulder. “I met this man on my way home, when I was assailed by Nekolain’s thugs. He…” she said with a sympathetic, on-the-brink-of-tears expression. “...He saved my life.”

“Wait, I—”

Chigusa cheered. “Oh, really? Mister Kuroiwa did that?”

“Yeah,” confirmed(lied) Shiyuri. “My clothes were all tattered, and they almost had their way with me. That was until he delivered some swift, well deserved justice on those degenerates. If he had not come, I would be, well…”

“Hi, miss Shiyuri, was it?” called Chigusa, raising her hand like a student with a question.

“Yeah. What is it?”

“U-uhm… what did you mean when you said, ‘almost had their way with you’?”

Shiyuri staggered. Kuroiwa’s eyes shot open. And Chigusa tilted her head in wondrance of what Shiyuri had just said. It was as if lightning struck the room. Did they miss the bus? Did they miss a page? How did they get there? Kuroiwa and Shiyuri’s jaws dropped.

No way!

Just how sheltered is this girl?!

Just how old was Chigusa, exactly?

Shiyuri stared at Chigusa and ran a diagnostic and identity scan on her.

[Chigusa. Current age of 22 years. Number of Phoenix loops: 1. Other internal information is unavailable to the public.]

As expected of a Code Reader, any information beyond surface level was inaccessible. She then checked her own information just for comparison.

[Shiyuri Akasaka. Current age of 25 years. Number of Phoenix loops: 0.]

By current life age, Shiyuri was definitely older than Chigusa. Though the Code Reader had already undergone one loop, that shouldn’t factor at all in her knowledge base of things in general. To add the cherry on top, Chigusa was a Code Reader—a practitioner and understudy of Neo Shibuya law. She had no right to be as ignorant and nonchalant of the countless atrocities in this godless city. Was she sheltered, or was she just playing dumb? Shiyuri could go straight to the point and tell her exactly what she meant, but such an act would be tactless, and most of all…

The story was a lie anyway. There was no use digging any deeper.

“Miss Shiyuri? Is something the matter?” Chigusa asked with deep concern while looking at the girl who just stood there, looking at her motionless for some time now.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Shiyuri, breaking a sweat. “I must have spaced out.”

“Are you alright? Do you need a doctor? Are you still shaken from the Nekolain attack? Do you need me to—”

“It’s fine, Code—I mean, Chigusa. I don’t need anything right now except… Oh!” exclaimed Shiyuri, looking like a lightbulb just lit in her head. “Actually, I’m really out of laundry soap right now. Mind joining me for a little stroll a few blocks down the 5th to buy some?”

“But miss Shiyuri, there’s a vendo right there where you can—”

“No! I mean, uh, they don’t have my brand.”

Shiyuri tried to set-up an opportunity to catch Chigusa alone and have a little chat with her. That was the plan from the get-go, but meeting her out in the blue would draw too much suspicion to herself. And so she hatched a plan to defame one of the few friends Shiyuri witnessed Chigusa having contact with, Kuroiwa, to be on better terms with the Code Reader herself. She did not expect the subject itself to be so… friendly, and cordial. Perhaps the plan was unneeded from the start, but either way, this was a good time to single her out.

Kuroiwa chimed in, waving his hand. “You need me to come with? You might get in trouble with Nekolain’s thugs again.” said he mockingly, piercing through the made-up story she told earlier.

“No, it’s fine.”

Chigusa corroborated Kuroiwa’s offer. “I think it’s a good idea. Mister Kuroiwa already helped you once, and he’s also a government—”

“No, it’s fine!”

Kuroiwa laughed and rubbed his temples. “Hey now, cut it out with the secret government agent thing. I’m just a gun.”

Shiyuri crossed her arms and inspected Kuroiwa from a distance.

“That’s a suspiciously specific denial.”

“Yeah, well, you seemed to know everything about me just half an hour ago. What do your sources say about me?”

“Whatever, Sensei. You can just stay here and, like, watch my panties dry or something.”

“Uh, sure? I won’t do that?”

Chigusa looked at them all worried, while the two exchanged a somewhat fierce statement amongst themselves. “Are you two fighting?” she asked with the innocence of a child.

“No, we, uh…” answered both in unison.

“Anyway,” Shiyuri nudged Chigusa towards the laundromat’s exit. “Shall we? I want to get my laundry done before the sun rises.”

“But you’re still just wearing a shirt…”

“Okay! I’ll get my pants!”



The sight of Neo Shibuya at this time was remarkable. Though the city was usually sleepless even in the wee hours of the morning, things were different this time around. Lights were minimal, and the back alleys remained deserted, and have been since the attack this morning. Citizens decided to stay home in the light of the recent assault, not because they feared for their life, but feared for money and property.

Replacing one’s self was a great expenditure, after all. No one wants to end up in indentured servitude to whichever corporation decides that they get to live one more day… or an entire few decades, if they really wanted to.

This left only skeletal crews manning 24-hour stores, and the pair, Chigusa and Shiyuri, to walk Neo Shibuya’s deserted thoroughfares.

They walked at a steady pace, their footsteps echoing among the row of unlit residential apartments. Heaps of crumbled paper served the same purpose as a wild west town’s tumbleweed rolling with periodic gusts. Police sirens blared in the great distance; likely on the prowl for any sudden insurgencies that Nekolain may have planned for the city this fine evening.

“So, uh, Miss Shiyuri,” said Chigusa, adding her voice to the sounds of footfalls. “Mind if I asked you a question?”

“Sure. You don’t need permission for it. Just ask away.”

“I’m sorry…”

Oh geez, you don’t need to apologize, thought Shiyuri while observing the subtle shakes and twitches of Chigusa.

Chigusa twiddled her thumbs and rubbed her fingers together. “Nekolain’s cronies… what were they like? I’ve never seen them before myself, even though I have to read through criminal records and stuff for work. I wanna know so I can stay away from trouble.”

“Oh, them, huh?” Shiyuri sighed.

“Sorry! I know you’ve had it rough, so if you don’t wanna share, that’s okay. I’m sorry I brought it up.”

She sure apologizes a lot…

“There’s no need to be sorry! Seriously!” insisted Shiyuri. “It’s no big deal. They’re dime a dozen in the city. I’m just surprised you haven’t seen Nekolain’s minions first hand. Then again, if you did, you’d be…”

“I’d be…?”

“A-ah,” stuttered Shiyuri. “It’s nothing. So yeah, Nekolain. How do I even start…?”

Shiyuri formed the perfect description of a ‘Nekolain thug’ in her head. It came naturally to her, and the kind of image she had was far richer than any police sketch of a suspect. She could create an image file and transfer it directly to Chigusa’s cyberbrain, but she didn’t want to risk transmitting any other ‘unwanted data’. The girl in front of her was a Code Reader, after all. If a single speck of confidential data were to be transferred—

—Things would get nasty.

Shiyuri began to describe the image. She told Chigusa of their physical properties: Tall, muscular men with colored mohawks and spikes laden all over their shoddily-made leather jackets. Their eyes were bloodshot and holstered a blunt weapon on their back, and a 9mm pistol on the hip, maybe even a .50 action express if they were ‘ranked high enough’. Their psychological attributes lent to mouth-breathing, constantly enraged behavior, and increased murder and sex drives.

She had ascribed them to thugs as seen in centuries-old classical manga about a strong, noble man wandering the wasteland, striking his enemies’ pressure points and exploding them in a celebration of blood and guts. Chigusa could not hide her fascination; her eyes were glazed like a deer in headlights, and she’d reply every now and then with an earnest “Ooh!”.

Shiyuri was fascinated by this girl’s naivety and curiosity. The only greater thing that piqued her interest was Chigusa’s face mask.

That black face mask.

She had never taken it off this entire time. Was it her fashion statement? Could she be carrying a viral disease she could spread? That couldn’t be, she thought, remembering that machine bodies have long since solved humanity’s vulnerability to plague.

“It’s my turn to ask a question, if you don’t mind.” said Shiyuri.

“W-what is it?”

“You’re a Code Reader, aren’t you?”

Chigusa stepped back. “Miss Shiyuri? H-how did you know?” she asked with a non-concerned but surprised look.

“It’s simple. I’ve been looking for you.”

Shiyuri cornered Chigusa against a nearby wall and slammed her hand beside her. Chigusa recoiled and closed her eyes. “I knew I had the best chance with you,” claimed Shiyuri. “If I followed that man, Kuroiwa, I thought I'd eventually run into you. And now, you’re right where I need you to be.”

“Miss Shiyuri, you’re scaring me…”

“That’s the point, Code Reader. I’m threatening you. You know what that means, right? You don’t need that explained, too, right?”

“I don’t understand. Why’re you doing this?”

Shiyuri clicked her tongue. “I’m gonna need access codes to the city’s electrical grid. I need bypasses, authorization codes, landing numbers… the works, Code Reader. Be thankful; this is the nicest way I’ve asked anyone for anything.”

“But why are you asking me?” said Chigusa, opening her eyes and staring pitifully into Shiyuri’s. “I don’t have those kinda things on me. I just read city codes…”

“What?” Shiyuri grunted, bewildered with the young girl’s answer. “You’re a Code Reader. You’re one of the few with direct access to this city’s cyberbrain. An interpreter and reader of city law, with even higher authoritative access than your typical lawyer. You’re almost a city mayor in a videogame city at this point. Don’t give me that.”

Chigusa caressed the mask covering her mouth and pulled it up, as if to further hide the lower half of her face. “I can’t do that. I’m just… a lower rung employee.” she said with utmost sincerity. “I don’t know why you need all those, miss Shiyuri. Please don’t threaten me anymore…”

“Is that so? Then lead me to someone who can give higher-level access.”

“But why’re you doing this? I thought you were nice!” asked Chigusa, nearing the end of her rope.

“Listen. I am not ni—”

“Hey hey, ladies. Nice night?” interrupted a boorish, mocking voice from the side.

A pair of tall, rowdy thugs fitting Shiyuri’s description of a ‘Nekolain thug’ snuck up on both of them. While they didn’t have that crazed, perverse look Shiyuri had described earlier, it was clear from their crooked smiles that they were up to no good.

Dammit. Why now?

Shiyuri turned to them and smiled. “It is, isn’t it?”

“Hope we didn’t interrupt your lovey-dovey moment. But while seeing two girls kissing is definitely up our alley… let’s say we’re not voyeurs. We don’t watch. We do.”

Chigusa leaned up against the wall. She squirmed and tried to distance herself from the thugs and Shiyuri. “Are these the people you talked about earlier?”

“Looks like it.” Shiyuri said, then turning her attention to the pair of thugs. “Why don’t you leave us girls to our smooching and you boys can watch over there, hm? You can even video it if you want.”

“M-miss Shiyuri!”

Shiyuri winked at Chigusa reassuringly.

“Nah,” shrugged the uncouth man. “As I said, we ain’t the watching type. We’d rather keep the merch to ourselves. You said something about video? Well, we’re both into the business of selling video to our precious consumers. You two look like you could be movie stars.”


Shiyuri closed the distance between her and the thug, and began running her finger across his open polo. “I’m flattered you think I look good on camera, big guy,” she said seductively. “But I bat exclusively for the same team. Now, if you would be so kind—”

She stared straight into the man’s eyes and transmitted strange, corrupted data into his cyberbrain. The man started to twitch, and his arm began moving to his hip for no reason. A disembodied voice echoed in Shiyuri’s head.

[Hacking complete.]

“—kill yourselves, please.”

The thug drew his pistol and fired right into the head of his friend, killing him instantly. He then pointed it at himself and pulled the trigger. The bullet exited the barrel and pierced the man’s own skull. Both dropped dead onto the flow mere seconds apart from each other.

Chigusa shrieked. The sight horrified her and caused her to go into a panic. She focused her attention to the person left standing: Shiyuri—she with her bloodied face and stained white polo.

“W-what happened?! Miss Shiyuri, are you…”

“I’m okay, yeah,” Shiyuri said, picking up the 9mm pistol of the thug who had just been harassing them mere moments ago. “You’re not hurt, are you?”

“I’m not, but…” said Chigusa. “Why did they…”

“Chill out. I killed them.”

“But how? And why? I didn't see you—”

“I was about to tell you, until these two idiots cut me off.” stated Shiyuri, spinning the man’s gun around her finger. “I’m not a nice girl. Far from it. This city’s crawling with aimless, instinctual insects. Trust no one. Not even that man you call a friend.”

“W-What’re you saying?”

“Present day, present time.” Shiyuri shrugged and spun dramatically. She then pointed the gun straight at Chigusa, pulled the hammer, and beamed at her with deceptive friendliness. Chigusa shook with fear as she stared down the barrel.

“What’s wrong? Smile.

Nekolain loves happy people.”

Peace Poon
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