Saturday, September 18, 2010

Prologue – Chapter 1

This story takes place eighteen years ago, when most people did not even know of the existence of the Internet, and personal computers were normally thought of as standalone devices.

In a town called Kuniritsu, a suburb of Tokyo, there was a school known as Jusho High. Everything began in this school one day when a tall student impatiently burst into a room at the end of class. He stormed across the classroom to stop at the seat of a handsome young man who stood out from the rest of his class and ominously slammed the top of the desk.

"You Nakajima?"

"Yes, that's me..."

Ignoring the sudden vibration that the desk sent through his body, Nakajima Akemi resolutely stood up and looked the student in the eye. Kondo Hiroyuki was the captain of the karate club and the unofficial student "boss" of Jusho High. More than one student whom had dared oppose him had been forced to change schools--usually through violent means. Nakajima had never even interacted with Kondo before; he certainly couldn't think of anything that he might have done to make him this angry.

What gives? I haven't done anything.

Nakajima gulped and started to open his parched mouth to speak. At that moment, he heard a suppressed giggle from behind him. Nakajima his head and saw her. Bewitching, charming, she almost seemed too sophisticated to be a student. She was staring at him, her catlike gaze alluring yet full of malice. It was one of his classmates, Takamizawa Kyoko. Nakajima suddenly understood everything.

"Hold on a minute!"

The same instant Nakajima spoke, a fist flew into his solar plexus. Without even a chance to cry out, Nakajima fell to the floor. Kondo followed up his punch with a low kick. That was followed by single kicks to the chest and the lower stomach--carefully placed with enough force to hurt badly, but not knock their target out. Afraid of getting involved, Nakajima's classmates started to leave the classroom one by one.

"Hear me out...." Nakajima tried hard to protest, but his voice was silenced when Kondo's foot slammed into his mouth. His tears and saliva spilled out all over the floor.

"I don't wanna hear your excuses. You gotta learn what happens to people who come on to Kyoko."

Kondo kicked Nakajima in the back, flipping him onto his stomach. Kyoko, gleefully watching him get pummeled, kneeled down in front of him and flicked his upper lip with her fingers.

"He's got a face like a woman, and he still tried to kiss me!"

"Liar..."

Actually, Kyoko had tried to kiss him, and Nakajima had just pushed her away. Her pride hurt, Kyoko had used Kondo and his large crush on her to get her revenge. But Nakajima didn't have a single friend to corroborate his story. Only his classmate Takai Ken'ichi remained in the room, and even he just stood there, worriedly looking at Nakajima through his dark green-rimmed glasses; apparently, he lacked the courage to stop Kondo.

Kondo pulled Nakajima up from the floor with just his left hand before he thrust his right fist into Nakajima's solar plexus again. It felt like his heart was being torn out; Nakajima tried to cry out, but with the wind knocked out of him, he could neither inhale nor exhale, and all that left his injured lips was a pathetic little moan.

Nakajima had always been something of an independent maverick, not wanting to hurt anyone or get hurt himself, so he had never been beaten like this before. And to think this was over some stupid reason like rejecting a girl! The combined sensations of pain, anger, and humiliation overwhelmed him, and the wound in his psyche started to bleed, a drop at a time. Seeing him like this, Kyoko watched Nakajima with a look of pure ecstasy in her eyes, and laughed out loud. The sound of her high-pitched laugh reverberating throughout the classroom pierced Nakajima's eardrums and echoed in his skull, awakening an emotion he had never experienced before.

Damn you...I'll get you...you won't get away with this...

Nakajima's eyes lit up with a fierce, violent look he had never worn before.

"What's with that look?"

Kondo was taken aback for a second by Nakajima's expression. As if mad at himself for faltering, he punched Nakajima hard in the face. At the sound of Nakajima's tooth cracking, Kyoko, as if she had lost interest in the whole thing, asked, "Hey, don't you think that's enough?"

It was the voice of a dirty, cowardly woman, worried only about protecting herself; if Nakajima was beaten any harder, there was a real danger of her being held responsible.

"Hey, lucky you! Looks like you've gotten a reprieve. I've gotta say I'm surprised at what a weak little runt you are. Beating you up was just a waste of energy." His mouth twisted into a smile, Kondo unceremoniously dumped Nakajima's body on the floor like a rag doll.

An hour later, after finally being able to move, Nakajima reached the Chuo-sen Kunitachi train station, supported by Takai.

"Why don't we sit down?"

Still propping Nakajima up, Takai cocked his head in the direction of two open seats nearby.

"Eh? ...oh, sure."

Nakajima collapsed onto the seat and stared forward resolutely, all the while regretting he had ever applied to his school.

Jusho Private High was a famous and prestigious school; every year more than twenty of its students were admitted to Tokyo University. However, anyone familiar with the way the school worked would acknowledge the extreme stratification amongst the students. The school was divided into two groups, the general class, and the "gifted" class. The gifted class received better facilities, better curricula, better teaching materials, and in general were favored much more highly. The gifted class comprised about twenty percent of the student body and was always the target of constant jealousy and disgruntlement from the general class. With such a gulf between the two, the violent incidents born from this jealousy were to an extent unavoidable.

Both Nakajima and Takai were part of the gifted class. With his slender frame and delicate looks, if Nakajima swapped his uniform for a girl's sailor suit, he might very well be able to pass for a beautiful teenage girl. Takai's appearance, on the other hand, was the polar opposite. Judo practice since junior high had given him a rugged body and thick fingers. But his personality was not as tough as his exterior, and when he put on his glasses, he looked almost childlike.

"That Kondo, he seemed even worse than usual today," Takai said, almost as if making excuses; he felt a little guilty for not stepping in to help Nakajima.

Nakajima raised an eyebrow and responded half-heartedly. "His energy doubles whenever he's near a woman."

"What the heck is someone like Kyoko doing in the gifted class anyway? Besides, you'd never come on to her in the first place."

"Actually...it was the other way around."

"So it was Kyoko that got rejected, then."

Takai nodded as everything suddenly made sense. Lots of girls were interested in Nakajima, but none of them so far had been able to strike his fancy. Seeing his indifference, Takai always guessed that Nakajima must have extremely finicky tastes when it came to women.

The two sat next to each other in silence as the train passed through Musashi-Sakai station. Takai took a sidelong glance at Nakajima's profile. Among the students of the gifted class, Nakajima's grades were not particularly high. In contrast to Takai, who got good grades in just about everything, Nakajima was really only good at math and science. In the more liberal arts, the only subject he showed real strength in was world history. He wasn't much of an athlete either.

However, when it came to computers, nobody in school came even close to Nakajima--not even the teachers. Takai thought that you probably wouldn't be able to find someone who was as good as Nakajima in that arena if you searched all of Japan, let alone the school. The games that Nakajima would whip up in a matter of days were fantastic. No matter how popular they were, commercial games just seemed boring after playing one of Nakajima's. Sometimes Nakajima's expression looked positively mad as he hunched over one of the terminals writing programs in the school's CAI (Computer Aided Instruction) room, his fingers flying across the keyboard.

If I'm a prodigy, then Nakajima must be a bona-fide genius. Takai nodded to himself as his gaze turned back to the scenery passing by outside the window.

"Demons, eh...?" The words tumbled out of Nakajima's mouth suddenly.

"Eh?"

"No, never mind."

"Did you just..."

Just as Takai pursed his lips as if to say something, the train arrived at Nishi-Ogikubo station.

"See you."

Nakajima started to walk down the station stairs with his shoulders hunched and a brooding expression on his face.

"Geez, what is he thinking?"

Turning away from Nakajima, Takai plopped himself down on the two now-empty seats of the train.

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