CREO: Game of Creation
“Kaaaaiiiii! I’m bored!” I attempted to ignore Adam while I jotted notes down in my journal. Whenever I plan a new CREO world, I like to work out my ideas on pen and paper first—maybe I inherited more of my mom’s old-fashioned habits than I realized. It was difficult to focus, however, with someone constantly poking my face and asking every 5 seconds ‘what’s that? How’s that work? Are you done yet?’
“Go read another of my manga. I’m busy.” I tried swatting him away, but rather than be a good little boy, he sat on my desk and laid on my notepad, looking up at me with a pout.
“I already read all those.” He said.
“How? You’ve only been here a few weeks!”
“23 days and 9 hours.” Sometimes he seemed no different from any other kid, but sometimes he felt very different, more… engineered.
“What about books?”
“Read those too.” He flashed me a mischievous grin. “Unless you let me look at the dirty ones.”
“Anyway, I’m tired of reading. I wanna go out and see stuff for real!” He glared at me—we both knew what he meant by that. In the time since he came here, the only time Adam had been outside was in the backyard, where he would play catch with himself by throwing an old baseball against the wall. Kinda sad when I thought about it, but I wasn’t going to venture out for his sake and mom worked in an office most of the day, one of the few who still did.
Adam sat up and fished a piece of crumpled paper out of his pocket. Mom found an old box full of clothes from when I was around his size, giving Adam a wardrobe of shorts with fraying edges and t-shirts promoting long concluded card-game anime. He stuffed the brochure in my face.
“Take me to the dinosaur museum! I won’t bother you anymore if you do! Please!” Fukui Prefecture’s claim to fame is the dinosaur fossils found in the area. Apparently, there are 5 species of dinosaur with the name Fukui in them, and the museum is a must for any curious elementary student, especially since we lived so close to it.
“I don’t exactly have a car.” I said, hoping to wait out the conversation until he gave up.
“Who does? I saw on the news they just added a transit stop there—we’d get there in a minute.” He countered.
“You’d draw too much attention.” I pointed at my hair, highlighting the fact that most people’s aren’t blue. Adam smiled and rushed over to my (now our) closet, pulling out a baseball cap and slapping it onto his head.
“How’s this?” I was running out of excuses.
“I… just don’t want to.”
“None of your business.”
“Are you scared of the missiles? It was scary the first time, but the force field—”
“Leave me alone!” I tapped my watch to go into CREO, but… tap tap, nothing. “What’s wrong with it?” My breathing grew rapid and fierce. The watch was my lifeline—without it, I was unplugged. It was unthinkable.
“You okay?” Adam touched my arm. It had started trembling, and I realized how sweaty and light-headed I’d gotten.
“N-no. It’s never done this before. Why can’t I go into the virtual world?” Adam glanced at my watch and, to my horror, took it off my wrist and held it up.
“Can you get it fixed?” He asked. For the first time in years, there was no clock, no notifications or apps or UI in my field of vision. The colors in my room were a little off, and I felt queasy.
“I… I need to get it fixed. Now.” Adam nodded and handed it back to me. I quickly placed it back on my wrist, but… nothing. The screen went blank, and the UI didn’t return. I was unplugged—I had no choice.
Outside was brighter than I remembered.
“Hurry up! Let’s get your watch fixed quick, then dinosaur time!” Adam pulled me out of the doorway onto the street.
The defining features of our quaint little town were its traditional houses bunched up together, the mountains that rose up around us like mounds of matcha, and the recently built tower that rose from the center of town—looking so out of place amongst the natural, old-world splendor of the valley. We thankfully didn’t run into anyone until we reached the tower—a sprawling transit hub that connected us to pretty much anywhere in Japan, the so-called Shinkansen 2.0. Even at the station, so few people milled about, even less than I remembered. The Harada family Mom told me about flashed in my mind. Between the plummeting birth rate, people moving to the big cities, and going full virtual, small towns like mine were dying—not that I could do anything about it.
While the sight of the old familiar streets filled me with dread, Adam looked as if we were walking through a fantasy-land. Every few seconds he’d point something out, ask about some building or mountain, and he got a huge kick out of crossing an old bridge. I guessed it was unfair of me to keep him locked up for so long, but…
Our turn was up—we stepped into the transit pod and I selected Katsuyama. I knew there was a tech store there that could help me, and I knew Adam wouldn’t shut up about dinosaurs unless I took him. In an instant, a soft whistling sound was followed by a short jingle, and the pod door opened.
“We’re already here?” Adam asked as we walked out into Katsuyama station.
“We aren’t far from home—it’d have taken at least a few minutes if we’d have gone to Fukui city or out of the prefecture.” He wasn’t listening, rather he was gawking at a souvenir stand of dinosaur figures. I grabbed his hand to keep him from wandering off. Was this what having a little brother would’ve been like?
One thing about small towns was that everything was clustered together, so we didn’t have to go far. Another thing about small towns, however, was you can’t go far without running into someone you know.
“Kaito-kun!” I recognized the voice as soon as we stepped into the store, even though it’d been over a year since I’d last heard it.
“R-Rin.” She’d gotten taller since I last saw her, grew her hair out too, and was that a pink streak in it? “You don’t wear glasses anymore?” I sputtered out.
“I told you over text a while ago. Anyway, congrats!”
“You finally left the house! We should celebrate, I can get off work.” I glanced down at her uniform.
“W-when did you start working here?” Adam tugged at my arm.
“Oh, right!” I showed Rin my watch.
“That’s odd.” She said. “Usually we only get old folks with their outdated tech. These don’t break too often. You didn’t drop it in a toilet, did you?”
“No!” Rin laughed at me and glanced at Adam, cocking her head to the side.
“Who’s your handsome little friend?”
“Adam.” He looked confident, but I noticed he was sticking pretty close to me. “Are you Kai’s girlfriend?” I nearly fainted and smacked the back of his head, which prompted the most fake crying I’d ever witnessed. Rin smiled and returned my watch.
“Should be re-calibrated. Now come on, let’s do something fun!”
“Dinosaur. Museum. You promised.” Adam made a compelling argument, and with Rin there, I couldn’t go back on my word like I’d planned.
Kids are exhausting, especially when you haven’t gotten proper exercise since… ever. I sat on a bench and caught my breath as Adam gawked at a group of skeletons. I admit, it was nice to see him bouncing around with such a big smile. Remembering those first moments of his life made me shudder. Rin took a seat next to me and handed me a much needed bottle of water.
“You doing okay? I’m still in disbelief you’re here at all.”
“A little nauseous. Didn’t expect this many people. I’m surprised there’s enough still around.”
“You talk like the world’s ending or something.”
“Isn’t it? Wars, pandemics, people are leaving for the virtual world. What’s the benefit of being here?”
“Not everything’s about benefit or gain.” She looked angry. This is why I don’t talk to people face to face—I always screw up. “It’s not perfect, but I like it here anyway.” She said, taking a big gulp from her green tea. “Besides, there are things the virtual world will never copy perfectly. Like him.” Adam came bounding over to us, flashing a big grin.
“I read all the plaques!” I wasn’t as surprised as Rin. After all, I knew he was proof the virtual world had the potential to supersede this world, let alone copy it.
“I’ve been coming here for years and I’ve never read all the exhibits.” Rin said.
“That’s my cousin for you.” It was the lie we were telling her. I couldn’t exactly tell her the truth, right? “Ready to go, then?” Adam glanced at the gift shop and pointed.
“There first?” He had no concept of money and he took off before I could say no. Great.
“Don’t make that face.” Rin said, poking me and making me turn red. “He’s doing you good. I was worried about you after the national tournament.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“But in a way, it’s good. There are other things in life, Kaito. What’s one more CREO tournament when you can—”
“What do you mean?”
“You hadn’t heard? Oh, right, your watch was broken.” I checked my notifications and there it was—the International CREO Championship announcement.
“Don’t bother with it. Besides, the travel part doesn’t seem like your thing.”
--Starting in the round of 16, matches will be played in physical venues throughout the world, for the first time utilizing the advanced technology of CREO’s much anticipated version 17 update.--
Update Alpha. I looked at Adam, carrying a big stuffed T-Rex and wearing a matching baseball cap. If CREO could make him materialize…
“I have to compete. I have to see it for myself, get answers.”
“What do mean?” Rin asked. “And anyway, only the top 40 players or national champs can form a team…”
“Actually, I’m still rank 39 globally.” I looked at her and smirked. “No way I can pass this up.” I sent her the article I was looking at, showing a picture of Pluton, the US champ Artemis, and the European Junior champ Sieg, now a team. “Everyone expects them to win—it’s my job to make things interesting.”
Adam returned to us, having bought out half the gift shop using my money. The sun was setting outside, casting shadows of purple and orange onto the mountains. Even out here we wouldn’t be seeing any stars though—the cities had gotten too big all around us. By the time we parted ways with Rin and got home, Adam was nearly asleep on his feet.
“Th-thanks, Kai.” He mumbled, his head nodding up and down as he struggled to stay awake.
“Yeah. It… it was more fun than I expected.” Adam grinned and shuffled toward our room.
“I’m glad. Hopefully next time I won’t have to short out your watch.” The bedroom door shut, and I stood in the living room in stunned silence. The door cracked open again and Adam’s face peeked out. “Sorry about that.” I wanted to be mad, I should’ve been mad…
“Just don’t do it again. And maybe let me in on all your super powers.”
“But then I can’t pull pranks on you.”
“Go to bed.” Adam chuckled and retreated once more into the bedroom. Always full of surprises. I pulled up the article again and read the last line again, the line that really convinced me to join.
--According to the CREO press release, the tournament will usher in a new era, one where the boundary between our two worlds is broken down and the progress of technology can be fully embraced. The old world is about to get an upgrade.--
Knowing what Update Alpha could do, I knew they weren’t just trying to be poetic. This tournament was going to have major implications for the world, and just as Kuu said, I was the only one who truly understood that.
I glanced at the stuffed T-Rex laying on the couch.
I’m not getting left in the dust as the world evolves. If a meteor of change is coming, I wanna have a say in whether or not I go extinct.
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