He got down on all-fours and started his workout. It was a strenuous regiment consisting of several push ups, chin-ups, sit-ups, stretches and aerobics; sometimes he mixed it up with pull-ups and other forms of exercise. The entire process took him half an hour to finish after which he was always left sweating like a turkey on thanksgiving.
Suzuki was by no means the toughest guy in the world, but he had an excellent physique. Powerful well toned muscles without any useless fat or muscle in them, a lithe frame that allowed high agility if he needed to run, and rock hard abs that protected his abdomen.
His body had not been easy to obtain either.
When Suzuki was ten, his biological father enrolled him in a junior martial arts school. When the old man was not home (which was a lot), his mother tended to get very abusive. For reasons he never understood, she blamed him for his father losing interest in her. To escape from her beatings and strengthen himself, he took the sessions which were supposed to have been a hobby overly serious pushing his body to the limit.
Two years later, he went as far as the finals for the national championship but the accident that claimed his parents’ lives prevented him from finishing. Since then he had diligently kept up his training every day, even enrolling in the kendo club in middle school.
Suzuki soon surpassed both his mates and seniors which induced a wave of bullying he could not bear no matter how stubborn or tough he was. To get away from them, he quit the kendo club and would have given it up entirely had it not been for King’s Journey.
Since he had chosen to be a swordsman in the game, he practiced kendo diligently in the real world, and used what he practiced for real battles in Zytra giving him the experience he would have lacked if he kept
practicing simply as a sport.
In high school, he switched to archery to give Razznik a bit more variety in his attacks. It was at the archery club he met the girl who would later lead the army against Razznik: Adachi Ayumi A.K.A Aileera…
The mere thought of the ‘Archery Princess’ jolted him out of his reverie.
He filled the bathtub with water and poured in the bubble bath solution. He relaxed in the spa-like warm water and rejuvenating foam; a luxury he could have only once in several months (if he was lucky) back
A while later, he stood in front of his closet dripping wet from his bath; a towel was all he wore to cover below the waist. Luckily, whoever made the facility had enough sense to make sure the underwear provided were brand-new. He did not care if they showed him his signature on an underwear, he was not wearing anything given by someone else that did not come in an unsealed pack.
He put on a white T-shirt and black pants from the closet, picking up the communicator from the dresser beside his bed and slipping it into his pocket. He made a mental note to find out if it was possible to download music into the device… and buy some headphones.
The clock on the comm* told him it was 10am Monday on the 8th of April, a week away from the day he had been kidnapped. He laughed guiltily when he realised he had really spent an entire week inside the Virtual Drive without any human contact. Now that he thought about it, he had spent three weeks in-game without speaking to a single user.
‘People like me are the reason online gamers are ostracized’.
Suzuki slipped into a pair of sandals by the door and left the room. The hallway was empty, the residents probably playing or otherwise occupied. He took the elevator to the ground floor and stepped outside.
The warm April sun shone down kindly welcoming him back to the real world. He took in a deep breath, deciding to take a little stroll.
An hour of wandering later, Suzuki came to a conclusion: he needed an alternate means of transport – like a bicycle or something. The facility grounds were just too large and he kept getting lost.
If it was not for the communicator, there would have been no redemption for him.
“Hey tough guy!” a familiar voice rang out behind him.
‘She better not be talking to me.’ Suzuki turned back to see Jade Yuhi riding up to him on the very thing he had just been thinking about. It was like she was created just to aggravate him.
“It is good to see you again Yuhi-san,” Suzuki greeted politely when she stopped next to him.
In reply, she made a face like she had eaten bad oyster. ” No formal speech please. Just call me Jade.”
“Is that so. Then I won’t hold back… Jade.” He somehow made her name sound like it was being dragged across a concrete floor then crushed in a grind.
“Still as unfriendly as ever… eh… what was it again?” she asked, cocking her head to the side with a bland expression.
“Don’t forget people’s names!” He shouted, exasperated by her attitude.
“Ah, sorry. I only remember important names so-”
“Sorry for being unimportant!”
“Ah, my bad. Sorry.”
“…Suzuki,” he mumbled from the corner of his mouth.
“Um… I didn’t get that.”
“Su-Zu-Ki!” he screamed into her ear.
“Haha. Nice to meet you Suzuki-kun,” she said, holding out her hand.
“It’s embarrassing if you use honorific now. Suzuki is fine.”
He shook her hand noting in a corner of his mind how tiny a girl’s hand was.
“What brings you here Suzuki?” She asked dismounting from her bike.
“Just taking a walk. Been a while since I was top-side.”
“Mind if I join you?”
“Not really. It’s fine.”
The pair walked side by side in silence, the sole sound between them the slight squeaking of the bicycle’s tires..
“Um.. sorry… you go first,” they chorused at exactly the same time.Tthe awkwardness caused Jade to burst out laughing. It seemed she had not had a good laugh in a while and had to balance on the handlebars of her bike to keep herself from falling.
“Mmm… That felt good.” Jade stretched her arms wide, a lazy smile on her face. “This place has been too weird.”
“Were you abducted too?”
“No. My grandfather works here; At least that’s what my father told me. I came to look for him.”
She seemed to be hiding something, but even he knew better than to press the issue.
“Were you abducted?”
“Yeah… On the first day of school, no less. At least I got to flip one over before they got me with that taser.”
“Pfft.” She covered her mouth instantly to smother her laughter.
“What’s so funny eh?” Suzuki asked, taking a step closer to her, so the only thing separating them was the bicycle.
“Nothing. I swear it’s not- pfft!”
He drew even closer, left eyebrow raised in question.
His stomach chose that moment to let out a cry of protest. It had been fed bare nutrients and wanted real food to eat.
“You seem hungry.” Glad for the change in topic, she backed away. “Where do you want to eat?”
“Eh.. I don’t know anywhere good. What do you recommend?” He scratched the back of his head, bracing for the inevitable question.
“How long did you say you were in the game again?”
“… A week?”
“Hahahahaha!” Jade laughed out loud clutching her stomach in pain.
The pair sat in a restaurant which Jade had recommended. It was buffet style and the girl seemed prepared to take full advantage of that; she was already on her third plate causing Suzuki to wonder
where all the food went.
He had spent the last thirty minutes narrating his story to her. He left out some important details like the name of the town Kashi had started in and the rare skills he got. In that world, everyone was an
enemy; It would do Kashi no good to divulge too much information.
Jade’s particular source of humour stemmed from how the story of how Kashi ‘sweet-talked’ the store keeper into lending him some bread. Suzuki found it relaxing to spend time with someone as open and
free spirited as she was – the direct of opposite of her.
“Seriously. You were so excited to get free bread?” Jade asked in between laughs.
“Oh, come on. It’s not that funny. Kashi had nothing on him. What did you expect him to do?”
“Sorry, my bad. It’s just the way you speak in the game is so funny.”
“It’s not ‘me’. Its Kashi,” Suzuki corrected.
“As a rule, I consider my avatars a separate entity from me. I would appreciate it if you did the same.” He gazed downwards at his plate, playing with his noodles.
Suzuki’s tone was light, but Jade could sense a heavy undercurrent just below the surface. This was a really big deal to him and she made a mental note not to refer to Kashi as him again.
“So… what about you? What’s your avatar’s story.” Suzuki looked up at her with curiosity. So far, only he had divulged any information.
Jade’s wide toothy grin reminded him of the Cheshire cat. “That’s a se-c-ret.” She poked his head and chuckled at his expression. “Pass me your PDA.” Stunned by the fact he had been one-upped by her, Suzuki obediently handed her the device. She placed hers next to his, pressed a button on hers, then handed his back to him.
A message asking to confirm adding her as a ontact popped up on the screen and he readily accepted. She was the third person in the his lifetime aside from his parents to ever have their numbers in
his phone. The first being James Shouyou, who had also given him his first cell-phone since his parents’ death and the second was the Archery Princess.
Suzuki was somewhat shocked at his hasty acceptance; it almost seemed like he had been desperate for attention. No, that was not possible; he had mastered the art of isolation. There was no reason for
him to be relieved that he had someone to talk to. Then again, it might just have been a quality she possessed: One he could not ignore.
The pair finished their meal and spent the entire day chatting non-stop.
Along the line, he figured out how to check his balance – Which he did. He had roughly 40000 yen left in his account. They stopped at a bicycle shop where he bought a decent one for 12000 yen leaving
him with 28000. He also bought a pair of high end headphones for 10000 yen. His balance at the end of the day was 18000.
Hopefully it lasted till his next pay check.
Jade also taught him how to download music free into his phone. As expected of a company leading the entertainment sector; they had already paid for all possible downloads. Hence there was nothing illegal
about them downloading from the hub.
Once again, Suzuki was shocked and impressed by just how much money must have been spent on the project. There was no way a company like Genaco would sink this much resources into something like finding a cure for parallel. Harsh as it may seem, that would just be ‘Bad Business’, as his birth father often said.
The two ate once more in the evening, then parted ways when the sun began to set. As Suzuki opened the door to his building, the sun set in the horizon, bidding him good-night.
“How’s it going so far?” Akari asked.
He was in a large room with several men and women pounding away on keyboards, monitoring floating screens on which data streamed through at improbable speeds.
“Only ten people refused to start the game,” Yukino reported. She stood next to him, watching the people scurry around like worker ants on an overdose of energy drinks.
“They have been dealt with.”
“Good. And those who stayed?”
“A few have begun to show early symptoms of Parallel, though it’s too early to say for sure. It may just be initial backlash from the game.”
“There was a report of a child spending the entire week in-game. He barely made it out before the safety limit kicked him out.”
“Name?” Akari asked, his interest piqued for the first time.
“The child from the opening day huh. His level?”
“Still three. We assume he spent the time exploring the world.”
“A tourist huh. He’ll be of no use to our cause then,”
They had the ability to follow the players’ progress in the virtual world to a certain degree, but the brain unconsciously protected itself from outside interference, which was why they could only pull information bits at a time while the player was still in-game. When he was logged out, they could draw the data from the save file. The longer they spent in the world, the longer it took to download the information.
By staying in for a week, Suzuki had unknowingly prevented them from gleaming too much information. Since he had already logged back into the game, the most they could obtain was data leading up to his
The rest were still tucked away safely in the save file. But Suzuki did not know any of this…