Vol. 1, Book 1 (The Vigilantes) – CHAPTER 9 P1
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A man was having a hard time taming his playful dog over the pedestrian crossing that emerged from the Jingu-dori Park, above the short-lived street that diverted part of the traffic from Meiji-Dori to Jingumae-Dori. Below, a white school bus moved southwest among light traffic, driving across the curve that led to the Fukutoshin line overpass. Once the vehicle that transported the students from the 3-A class of Shibuya High School left behind the murky tunnel, Kazuto devoted himself to observe the drab and repetitive cityscape through the window of his seat, located in one of the rows closest to the bottom of the bus. Even if a few structures differed from the monotonous pattern, they were all ten-story buildings with clothing stores at street level. How boring. If he had not enjoyed a good night's sleep as he'd had for the first time in several days, he would have yawned at such an uninspiring scenario. He was forced, however, to squint his eyes every time the evening sun filtered through the buildings of the narrow streets amid a junction, sparkling against the glass. And to think the many tourists who walked along those streets marveled at the same urban landscape that dominated the great cosmopolitan cities of their own nations.

And yet, the image of the colorless architecture of his city was not enough to distract Kazuto of what his mind was really immersed in. The words his brother had uttered the previous day still resounded in its confines. "When you grow old, you will end up regretting not having enjoyed your youth. You have to live, Kazuto," he had said, perhaps from his unique and unhealthy perspective of joy. But despite all the circumstances, he had always managed to maintain his mood and his enthusiasm, as did Nozomi. Hell, even Raisuke, though with fewer setbacks in his brief existence, enjoyed life at his own pace. Why could not he find the silver lining amidst his own cloud?

When the bus stopped at the red lights, Kazuto felt the urge to look to his right side where his friend Raisuke was pressing the buttons of a portable video game console like a madman.

"Could you please tell me why would you bring a console on a ten-minute trip?" he asked him, baffled once again by his attitude. "The Shibuya crossing is only a few blocks away."

"You never know. I might get bored on the tour," he replied in an offhand manner, his eyes always fixed on his console.

"Weren't you excited about being in the most 'cool', your words, building in the world?"

"It may not be as cool as I thought," he answered as if he had forgotten his effusiveness in the previous days regarding that very same trip. "Also, they canceled all of our club activities just for this visit." That was true. Yet, he seemed to have forgotten they had no activities in the kendo club that day. What a clueless guy. "Oh, damn you, Hades!" he yelled, complaining about a sudden development in his videogame. "Why is this final boss so difficult to beat?"

Ahead of them, Nozomi turned right around in her seat, her arms resting on top of it as she looked at Raisuke with distaste; she had evidently overhead their conversation.

"They will take that crap away from you at the entrance, you know?" she noted to him, her voice lacking empathy. "These places are very rigorous regarding their safety." Raisuke turned a deaf ear to the latter and continued with his thing, so she switched her attention to Kazuto. "Has your brother recovered?"

"Yup. As good as new," Kazuto grunted with indifference. He had received a call from the hospital that morning informing him that Yoshiro was ready to leave during the afternoon. How lucky.

Nozomi's brows knitted in confusion. "And you are not happy about it?"

Kazuto shifted his gaze back to the window, avoiding her gaze "We argued, that's all."

"I see."

Kazuto glanced at her friend, who seemed taken aback by his blunt response. As the bus went on its path, Nozomi settled back in her seat. That had been a bit rough on his part. Nozomi always appeared to be worried about him, but Kazuto had done little for her lately. In the end, what was it that he really could do for her? She was very busy with her studies, her work, and the practices of her club. In his current state, Kazuto would be nothing more than a burden to her. And if he wanted to overcome what was happening to him, he had to confront his feelings about it.

And, still, he could not help feeling he should be able to do more for his friends.

"I'm fine, Nozomi," he said to her, with some remorse in his voice. "I just need some time to deal with all this."

As the bus went on its path, Nozomi settled back in her seat, perhaps more worried about him than Raisuke and Yoshiro altogether. Kazuto may not have sensed her concern, but he was grateful for her silence; after all, she might have shared more time with him than his own brother and knew better than anyone when he wasn't in the mood for conversation

Kazuto had no way of knowing, but at that moment, a dry smile took hold of Nozomi's face. He knew her concern for him went beyond that of Raisuke and Yoshiro altogether. And still, he was grateful for her silence. As far as Kazuto remembered, she might have shared more time with him than his own brother and knew better than anyone when he was not in the mood for conversation. And a good friend would always know when to keep quiet.

The school bus required no more than three hundred meters of additional travel to reach its destination. The small group of teachers who accompanied them were the first to come down the bus; Kazuto was among the latest students to get off it, his feet clearing out the last of the steps to touch the pavement where little more than a day before his brother had had a close encounter with death. Once they left behind Jingumae-Dori, the shadow of the imposing building abandoned the students and in its place came sunlight shining through a few clouds in the sky. Unwillingly, Kazuto deflected his gaze from the gleam of light to the quasi trapezoidal structure of the building it had inherited from its predecessor, stretching upwards through a facade of interjected glass and steel columns, albeit with a few extra floors beside the relocated entrance in the front, the exit of the underground parking lot to the east. Even if not the tallest of Tokyo's high-rises, Cytek Headquarters imposed certain respect and fear, standing there in the symbolic heart of the city with arrogance. The young Yoshimura felt dwarfed by its magnitude; he even had the feeling that there at the top of it someone was watching him.

The students entered to the premises in a single row, stepping through the large frameless reinforced tempered glass doors on the right. They came to a halt before the reception desk at the center, a series or dark metal detector arches at both sides next to x-ray baggage scanners. Kazuto did not mind the tight security measures, but he suspected his friend Raisuke would have something to say about it. While he kept his mouth shut, it was evident he was terrified inside. Once again, the false self-confidence mask on his face had faded away. He swallowed hard as he saw a student handling his cell phone to the guard, who then put it on a small plastic box. The young jokester was the first of the three to go through the arch, accompanied by a man who wore a white shirt with a tie and black pants, a peaked cap of the same color on his head. He greeted him with a smile on his face as he gently asked him to take off his jacket and empty his pockets, requesting him to get rid of any kind of electronic device for the extent of his visit.

Raisuke followed suit and placed his school jacket in a box that went through the scanners' conveyor and past the lead curtain. No alarms were raised, so everything seemed fine. However, when Raisuke himself was about to go through the detector arch, Kazuto noticed he was moving something to one of the pockets of his pants. What he was doing was as obvious as stupid. Did he actually think he would slip past security that way? Kazuto rolled his eyeballs at such an act of foolishness. But then, he found himself staring at his friend, his eyes wide open in the presence of an apparent realization. How many times had he turned a blind eye to his friend's childish behavior? Was he never going to grow up? Both his father and Yoshiro had always mentioned to him a person should lead by example. In that precise moment, Kazuto did not comprehend why, but he felt he had to do something about it, all of a sudden. Almost instinctively he reached into Raisuke's pocket in an offhand manner, removing the console from it with the skill of an experienced thief.

"Hey!" the young jokester complained to him.

Kazuto then handled the device to the security guard. "I'm terribly sorry," he said to him, acting all adult and reasonable. "My friend is a freak of these things and likes to believe he can get away with it."

The man gave Raisuke a withering look, but then continued to act as if nothing had happened. Who evidently was not going to let the incident pass was Raisuke himself. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he barked, acting like some spoiled eight-year-old boy who got his candy stolen.

"I'm the one who should ask that," said Kazuto, convinced he had done the right thing.

Nozomi, who was standing behind both of them, meddled in the affair. "You should have let him embarrass himself, so he would have learned his lesson the hard way."

She was right. On multiple occasions, Kazuto had avoided saying or doing something, knowing his friend would not listen to him. As Nozomi had mentioned, Raisuke was one of those people who would only earn from experience. And still, why had Kazuto acted like that if he comprehended this situation to perfection? It seemed his friend's foolish acts no longer amused him as they did before. In the midst of his confusion, Kazuto shook his head as he crossed the security arch. It was evident he could not put the finger on what had occurred to him at that moment.

Once the awkward incident felt between the cracks, the students moved on to a second control area where they were granted with magnetic stripe cards with security clearance for visitors. They were also introduced to a slender woman with light brown hair wearing a white coat, who would escort them on their visit to the building. The students went through the corresponding turnstiles and accessed one of the four staircases that faced each other to then clamber upwards. And so, they began their tour across the facilities. On the first level, they moved across a food court area and a communal room for recreation. On the second one, they met a showroom dedicated to the company's most popular products. There were different types of prosthetics—ordered acording totheir evolution with the passing of the years—and old solutions of wheelchairs for people with low resources. Also, there were cars that operated entirely with electricity, quantic computers, advanced medical scanning machinery, and both augmented reality glasses and virtual reality systems for video games.

Raisuke bobbed his head in every direction as the group walked around the showroom, trying to catch a glimpse of everything at the same time. One of the things that caught his attention the most was a brand new headset of virtual reality glasses. He even had the opportunity to try it for a few minutes along with the complementary gear, which included a surface on where he could move freely and a set of electrodes that emitted wireless signals to the receiving console. Kazuto had had the opportunity to try a previous model in Raisuke's house, although it seemed the new equipment was far superior in several aspects. Shortly after finishing his trial run, Raisuke dared to ask the guide about the weapons and vehicles everyone had seen on television. But the guide maintained her temper and diverted his question with the same excuses her company had given ever since the leaks were made public.

Later, the students moved later to the third floor, which posed as a health and fitness center, while both the fourth and fifth were dedicated to cybersecurity solutions, including one of the largest server rooms in the building. The group was informed that a huge amount of workshops filled some of the subsequent floors. These included labs focused exclusively on the field of medicine, areas of legal affairs, human resources, accounting, purchasing, and administrative offices. And yet, the sixth level of the Cytek Headquarters was, for sure, the most fascinating area for many of the students of his class. After all, most of them aimed at college careers that would allow them to work in the research and development technological laboratories that were placed there.

Kazuto glanced at the many scientists working in their stations, which were scattered in areas of cubicles here and there around the whole level, surrounded by conference rooms and senior offices on the edges. The roofs, walls, and columns were of a whitish color, while the lights from above reflected in the clear tiles and gave a sensation of neatness. Every single area of the building conveyed an undeniable air of elegance, sophistication, and modernity in its purest state. In a way, being present there meant one could take a look at the future. One could see the men and women who were working to expand the boundaries of technology, leading humanity to a new and mysterious stage of their development.

That, of course, as long as said future was favorable, for the technologies present there would not be used only for their welfare. And Kazuto was one of the people who always feared the worst.