“The Network Analysis Bureau’s press conference will begin at 10 o’clock.”
Yuichi Morino confirmed the schedule for today with his coworkers in their virtual meeting room. In a rare opportunity, one of the world’s largest organizations, the NAB, would be holding a press conference. In the digital age news flowed through the net all hours of the day, and there were few companies that still went to the trouble of actually calling reporters to some conference just to stare at the face of an executive rattle on. It was a kind of traditional thing, a pretext for organizations like this to call people physically to their offices.
This was about the internet search censorship case. Censorship by ISPs was not unusual in this day and age, but local freedom-of-the-press internet groups had organized and made a big fuss over this one in particular. In any case, it seemed as though the NAB had planned this conference to make the whole thing go away. In other words: it was just for show. It was nothing more than an opportunity for the reporters to have a direct pipeline to a NAB executive. The whole thing would be a scripted farce to appease the media.
“Did they just admit that the algorithm was intentionally adjusted to keep certain information out of sight?”
Blog posts, social networks, message boards, physical print… Yuichi had reviewed all the relevant materials and let the conversation keep going. Everyone pretended to care about the cover-up story at hand, and Yuichi was no different. He had to play along if he wanted to get the information he was looking for out of the executive scheduled to appear.
Yuichi had spent the last half a year in change chasing the curious case of the PC called Mother that had made an appearance in The World.
He had reached a roadblock that he knew only the NAB could solve, as he had inferred their involvement. The data surrounding the incident was just too clean, too polished. It stunk of a kind of doctoring only possible at the highest levels of NAB executives. Getting anywhere near that level, however, was next to impossible. Even if he worked for one of the major newspapers and made a formal freedom of information request, it would amount to nothing.
“The NAB had to know something about Mother.”
Yuichi repeated this over and over as if to convince himself. It was the first time in a year and a half that the NAB had invited reporters for a physical press conference. Today was his one and only chance to ask the question he desperately needed answered. Even he knew, though, that if he didn’t ask questions pertaining to the “real” topic at hand, then he wouldn’t get the answer he was looking for either. The conference was to be held completely offline, too, with no live broadcast and a script prepared. Any questions that went against the grain would be swiftly cut out in editing, completely gone from the broadcasted footage. That’s why it was absolutely necessary that Yuichi go in person. It was the only way he would be able to get a hold of information that wouldn’t be reported in the regular circuits.
“You’re obsessed with this Mother thing, man,” said a coworker with a laugh.
These sorts of ghost stories and occult nonsense was par for the course on the internet, and journalists who chased stories like Mother’s were far in between. There was just no point chasing stories that lacked realism, no reason to put effort into the ones that wouldn’t sell. Everyone in this business understands stories like that do nothing for your career, nor do they do anything good for your reputation. The most important rule to follow as a journalist was to only report the important truths, the kind that the average person needs, and to dance to the tune of those who spoke those “truths.” Ideas like justice are seen as childish here, and those who hold onto such ideals are nothing more than that: children. Anyone who’s been in this business long enough knows that to be the absolute truth, becoming more and more apparent as the years pile on. Yuichi was no stranger to this.
“I’ll see you guys later.”
Yuichi said this after confirming everyone’s schedules and cut his connection. In truth, he had no care for things like ‘journalistic integrity’ right now.
Just hearing the name alone was enough to make it all start flooding back. Halcyon days that had now become the subject of nostalgia he would hold dear to his heart forever. But memories like that, now divorced from reality, were always hard to realize again in any meaningful way. Their sheer power alone was enough to make him stop in his tracks. If only he could live in his memories forever… even if he knew nothing would come of it. All he could do was hold them down, smother them deep in his heart. And so he headed to NAB.
The venue was filled with a buoyant atmosphere hardly fitting for a press conference. Apparently, the executive scheduled to show up was a first-timer for this sort of thing. The man’s name was Ryo Misaki. Despite being only 27 years old, he had quickly risen through the ranks and become an elite among elites. His youth and good looks made him quite the hot topic online.
“Oh, you’re Morino from the Times, right? Nice to see you again,” said one of the many journalists making small talk to pass the time.
No matter how digital things get, some things never change–these sorts of social niceties between journalists most chiefly. It was a kind of shared gesture, like a religious act. Even if it had lost its sacredness, it was still carried out ritualistically among them. Not that there was anything wrong with that–humans require faith in something to survive, after all. Yuichi knew better than anyone how good a simple greeting could feel. It was one of Canard’s regular practices, after all. From that single greeting, people kept shuffling in one after another, propagating more and more greetings and turning the event into a kind of networking event. Once it had turned into a full-on party, Ryo Misaki made his dashing entrance.
The meeting hall shared a collective sense of surprise. The young man possessed a kind of aura that monopolized the attention of the room–his charismatic airs certainly had an effect. He had an unbelievable professionalism to him despite being only 27 years old, steadily gazing around the room. The female journalists present were all in a competition to make eye contact. He stood at his podium, his very presence causing a stir, and began addressing the crowd in a calm, calculated voice.
Ryo’s answers to each and every reporter’s questions were instant and perfect. Of course, he had a kind of script prepared, so he was simply adapting what he was supposed to say to their questions; it was functionally perfect, almost scarily so. It didn’t matter to anyone else here either way, and so they let themselves play by NAB’s script, yes-men to the end. It had become a perfect performance.
The questions had finished, and a silence entered the room. Ryo looked back upon the crowd just as silently. His cold gaze scanned across the room.
“I’m Morino from the Times. I have a question I’d like to ask,” he said.
Suddenly all eyes in the room were naturally on him, considering he had deviated from the script. The man at the podium did not even flinch, and settled his sights on Yuichi.
“Go ahead, please.”
“It’s said that the specific information censored in this case pertained to something called Mother. Is this correct?”
Like a bullet fired in the snowy wilderness, Yuichi’s words pierced through the atmosphere and immediately caused a stir in the meeting hall.
“Mother? What’s that?”
“Oh, it’s just some message board nonsense. Why the hell’s he asking about that?” Even the journalist who had so kindly said hello to him immediately changed his tune.
Despite this, Yuichi did not remove his gaze from the man at the podium for even a moment.
“We cannot respond to questions unrelated to today’s conference. Next question, please.”
Another perfect response from Ryo. It acted as a kind of deflection for all further questions, and no one dared speak up. Yuichi, however, took careful note of the momentary wavering in his eyes when he posed the question.
It only lasted for a moment, and caused a delay of two seconds to his response. It was in those brief two seconds that he had become entangled in Yuichi’s own gaze, unable to escape. Like a hunter stalking a bunny in the snowy wilderness, gleefully unaware of its impending doom, it had created a space where only they existed for a single quiet moment.
“Did my question make the air?”
After the conference was over, Yuichi had called his coworker to double check the broadcasted version.
“Nope, it’s like you weren’t even there.”
Of course, the question had been completely cut.
“Did you get what you wanted, at least?” asked his coworker.
“Eh, nothing concrete. Maybe next week I’ll make a formal request,” though he didn’t expect an answer.
He knew for certain, at least, that the NAB knew something and they were hiding it. There was no doubt that the NAB executives would start taking some precaution now that they knew someone was probing an incident otherwise considered completely concealed.
“Huh? You leaving already?”
It was still only a little past 4pm. Yuichi, however, couldn’t find it in himself to keep sitting around.
“It’s Friday already, huh? I’ll be leaving now.”
“What? Friday? You got a date or something? Or are you meeting with that drunkard of an old man again?”
“Ahaha, the latter.”
As he spoke, Yuichi felt Ryo’s gaze pierce through his mind again. It was the first time they had ever met, and yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that they had met somewhere before. Of course, he had seen his face countless times before in blog posts and magazine articles, but it felt deeper than that. The undeniable nostalgia of his gaze left a deep impression on him.
◆Translated by Falions (@falions_)
Japanese ver. （日本語版）はこちら