252 – Winter Tokyo Electronics Expo – The Elite Four
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"...And that's about it." The tech support staff member, a man with a mysterious black fox mask with blue flames, lowered his clipboard and said, "Any questions?"

John shook his head. "Not really. Well, just one." He frowned and said, "Why are you wearing that?"

"What, this?" The tech support staff member pointed to his mask and laughed. "It's just gamer gear to fit the work environment. Don't worry, I can see fine." He waved and said, "Anyway, I'll be on call if you or the other presenters need me. Otherwise, it's up to you guys to run the show. Have fun!"

With that, the tech support guy left.

And then John was alone. "Well," he said. "Nothing to do but wait, I guess." He shrugged and then pulled a chair over to sit down.

It was the waiting room at the back of the stage. Well, a repurposed waiting room. While there were some plush chairs and a few coolers for some refreshments, it was basically just a storage room with some extra stuff in it. Not too big, maybe enough to fit a dozen or so people comfortably. Still, there wouldn't be many people waiting anyway.

A pair of large TVs were wheeled in earlier, showing live feeds of the audience as well as the stage.

Right now, they were doing a recap highlight reel from the past few days-

Ah. And there was a clip of Meggie chowing down on the Creature Hunter feast. It seemed like she was more popular than John expected.

He chuckled and said, "I hope she doesn't cringe too much..."

Then again, Tsuki was with her, so Meggie could probably handle it. Friends were always helpful in getting over cringe.

Maybe.

Or she could just get flamed by Tsuki and get KO'd. Kai's daughter had seemed a bit more impish recently after hanging around Meggie, so she might do that instead of supporting her friend.

In any case, there was still a decent chunk left before the final presentations.

John had gotten there early, so the other people doing presentations hadn't arrived yet. Speaking of those people...

John pulled out his phone and checked the schedule that the tech guy emailed him. "Let's see... Did anything change?"

The people in charge of the expo sent an initial schedule out a while ago after confirming Project MirAIs... or rather, Myth Incorporated's participation. But John remembered that things had shifted around a bit.

"...Yeah, we're still last."

For better or for worse, John was closing out the show. Other than him though, there were only three more presenters. Or rather, presentations. After all, there could be more than one presenter...

Anyway, there was Myth Inc. Titor had taken up a slot with Mirror Corp. There was Ars Nova Productions... who John was pretty sure was Betty's secret project. He still didn't know too much about it since he was purposefully keeping himself in the dark to be surprised, but if she reserved a slot just for it... John was looking forward to what Betty had made.

And as for the last company presenting...

"Huh." John blinked and said, "I thought that Company X was presenting?"

He clearly remembered that suspicious sounding company name reserving a slot to present a new and innovative MMORPG called Lightnaught. He also remembered that they were going first. But instead, it looked like they dropped out last minute and were replaced by Shield Corp.

Which should be Akira's company.

And as a result, the order of presentations would be Shield Corp., Ars Nova Productions, Mirror Corp., and then Myth Inc.

"So Akira's leading, huh?" John tapped the arm of his chair and hummed. "He said it was a rush job, but if the expo let him open over Titor and Betty, it has to be pretty good. Well, unless it was nepotism, but Akira didn't seem like a guy to rely on that."

The guy was suspicious. John was sure about that. But John was also sure that he was a genuinely good person. And considering John had met countless people ranging from the scum of the Earth to sinless and benevolent saints, he was completely certain in his evaluation of Akira.

Though there was something nagging at the back of John's mind about the guy that he couldn't quite remember... Like he saw the guy's face somewhere before.

And there was the fact that he definitely had a system or something protecting him...

Well. Whatever the case, his demo was bound to be interesting-

The door to the waiting room opened.

"Hm? Ah. It seems that I'm not as early as I thought." A friendly chuckle echoed.

John looked over and then stood up, smiling. "Nah, you're plenty early. I just thought I'd scope out the place first."

Akira walked in and adjusted his suit. "That's a good idea. I wish I could have done the same, but I had to make sure the connections and messaging protocols for my presentation were working. Not to mention editing the video..." He sighed. "The problems of being the sole employee of a company."

John laughed. "I know what you mean. The first few days running Myth Inc. were pretty hectic as well."

Akira smiled and then sat down in the chair across from John. After that, he said, "I presume things are going well these days, however? After all, you were able to secure a spot at this expo."

John sighed. "Doesn't feel like it at times, but the girls are enjoying things and being taken care of. That's all that matters really."

Akira nodded. "I agree. It is always best to keep in mind the purpose behind what you're doing and not get lost in the profits." As he said that, a bitter smile crossed his face.

John raised an eyebrow and said, "Speaking from personal experience?"

"Not my own. But I have seen it." Akira frowned and said, "And people tend to fall through the cracks as a result." He sighed and then shook his head. "Some people just let that power get to their heads and then-"

The door suddenly slammed open, followed by a boisterous laugh.

"Fwahahaha!" Titor walked into the room and swung out his arms. "The time has come to declare Schrodinger's fate! The arclight to the future has entwined with the present, enabling the stars to align and-"

"Why are you like this!?" Amadeus ran into the room and jumped, dragging Titor into a headlock.

"Guh! A-Ama... can't... breathe...!"

Amadeus glared at Titor and eased up a bit. After that, she looked at John and Akira and let out a forced smile. "Ignore him. He's just... a bit excited for the presentation."

John sighed and said, "Seriously, Titor? Can't you at least be professional for this?"

Titor managed to squirm out from Amadeus and then straightened his lab coat. "I am always serious, Mister Smith."

Amadeus rolled her eyes and then walked over to grab a drink from the cooler. Probably because she couldn't be bothered to keep trying to rein Titor back.

"But forget that!" Titor spun towards Akira and held out his hand. "Yato-san! I've studied your work a great deal!"

Eh?

Akira chuckled and stood up. He walked over to Titor and shook his hand. "I've studied yours as well, Mister Titor. Though I have to say, when compared to what you've developed, my piddling results aren't worth talking about."

"I beg to differ!" Titor shook his head and said, "To come up with the concept of using the jPhone's iris scanner as a hi-definition tracker and pairing it with VR headset controllers to direct an avatar and so create an affordable streaming setup... A truly novel concept!"

Wait. Then...

Akira shook his head. "It's nothing special." He smiled and said, "I'm much more impressed at your work with the NERV_GEAR. Scanning the brain waves directly and intercepting the nervous system to direct a digital avatar. Paired with your recent AR hardware... It's amazing." He laughed and said, "I'm almost wondering if you really are a time traveler."

Titor laughed as well.

And then it clicked.

John pointed at Akira and said, "You're the one who did the tech demo of a virtual idol! The guy who disappeared over five years ago!"

Akira laughed. "Yes. That's me. Though, it seems like you've taken it much further than I ever thought possible... And I wouldn't say disappeared. I just took an extended business trip overseas and switched occupations." He frowned and said, "I meant to return earlier this month, but there was a hiccup in the transportation..."

John started to sweat.

He didn't think too much about it at the time, but...

A world without virtual idols. A guy who vanished but was working on said virtual idols... Someone who *clearly* got isekai'd.

And come to think of it, wasn't it convenient that John happened to run into Kai shortly after arriving? And then there was that mix-up of karma...

That was definitely in part due to Yue being upset and trying to get John back, but the world was also trying to get him to act in a certain way...

...Nah. It couldn't be, right?

It wasn't like his MC aura stole the spotlight from Akira. It was just coincidence. Definitely just coincidence.

Before John could think too much about that, the door opened again.

"Oh!" An energetic and bright female voice spoke up. "There are people here already?"

"That seems to be the case." A calm and beautiful female voice. And one that John knew very well.

Betty walked into the room, followed by a young woman with light orange hair and green eyes. Someone that John had also seen before, though not quite as well dressed the last time.

Betty froze, her crimson eyes quickly flashing orange. When they did, she let out a calm smile and nodded her head. "Greetings, Father."

A cool and collected response.

Of course, considering that her eyes were that color, she was actually panicking and just covering it up.

John chuckled and waved. "Nice to see you, Betty. So..." He turned to look at the young woman... No, from the presenters list, she had to be the 'Emily Nova' that was presenting alongside Betty.

Betty, who was also listed as 'Beta Nova.'

John smiled and said, "Care to introduce me to your cute wife?"

Titor choked and spun around to look at Betty. "You got married!?"

Emily's face turned a bright red and she quickly raised her hands. "W-W-Wife?! Oh, no! I could never... Betty isn't... U-Um...!"

Betty started to panic as well, even using her powers to keep calm. "W-What are you talking about, Father!? Emily and I are not married!"

"Hm..." John looked between Emily and Betty and said, "Well, considering the fact that the last time I saw Miss Nova she was in a hurry and a bit disheveled outside our office... and the fact that my beautiful and independent daughter is suddenly presenting under a different surname..."

Betty blushed and said, "T-That... I-It is simply a pseudonym! I-I am not... it is not official... Th-That is to say..."

Titor laughed and then walked forward to wrap his arm around Betty's shoulder. "There's no need to be embarrassed! As the supportive uncle, I approve of my beautiful niece's relationship! Especially to a cutie like Miss Emily!"

Emily covered her face.

Amadeus sighed.

Akira let out a warm smile.

And as for John...

"So. Should I tell our resident dragon about your changed relationship status then?"

Betty glared at John.

He laughed.

And then the door opened.

"Yato-san." The tech guy peered into the room and said, "You're up."

"Understood." Akira nodded and then took a look around the room. Smiling, he said, "Thank you for including me in this family discussion. But I'll give you all a bit of privacy now." He adjusted his suit and said, "I have a presentation to give... and hopefully not embarrass myself in the process."

John waved and said, "I'm looking forward to it, Akira."

He laughed and said, "Please do. I'll try to put on a decent show... Ah." A competitive flash appeared in Akira's eyes and he said, "But try not to be too disappointed if I steal the show."

"Hoh?" Titor crossed his arms and said, "Confident, are we?"

Akira turned his back on the room and walked out. "Something like that."

The door closed. And when it did, the TV playing the presentations turned black, setting up for Akira's presentation.

John turned to look at it and hummed.

Just what exactly was that guy going to present...?

Next time:

Shield Corporation Presents: Ilgarde

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