Because this story is set in a complex gaming world, the last chapter of this story will send you to a glossary I've made to help as a reference. I've only created the reference should the reader get a bit overwhelmed. It's not necessary if the reader is following along just fine. It's just a precaution. Thank you.
Mythical Mirage Online
by C. M. Lacey
"Hey kid, pack it up, it's closing time."
The sound of the voice sent shock waves through Tomoko Togawa's body, causing her to leap right out of her seat. The small nineteen year old had been buried under a pile of books in Tokyo University's Library. This was a common place for her, as was the startling visit she just received from the Librarian work study. He was a fellow student, but enjoyed sneaking up on her during closing hours to scare her. Maybe he might have thought it was funny, but Tomoko hated it.
"Seriously, Togawa-san, it's time to go. The books will all be here tomorrow." He teased her.
"Yes, but knowing you I'll have to find them all again." Tomoko complained, then eyed him. "Perhaps I should start using the digital library from now on."
"The day you do that is the day I quit this job." The work study laughed. "Ever since I can remember, you've always come here after classes. What the hell are you studying so hard on anyway?"
"It's just extra reading for class." She said, tired of explaining herself.
These days it seemed like she had to do this more frequently. Her classmates were all baffled as to why she studied so hard when she had the top marks of her major. Indeed, her trips to the library were not ones where she was studying for a test, she actually was going there for extra work. When she first started doing this, her classmates thought she was starting a studying group and some joined her. Then the truth came out. Once they realized she was going above and beyond what was required of them, they slowly backed away. Now it was only her.
The work study helped her pack her things, which also had become a ritual of sorts. She had a vague theory that he liked her, though she couldn't see why. She wasn't ugly or anything, she'd consider herself plain looking. There wasn't anything remarkable about her other than her brains, so why he'd be interested in an unkempt, glasses wearing bookworm was beyond her. Still, it did make her feel good that someone thought she was interesting.
Once she left the building, Tomoko allowed herself to stretch and yawn loudly. It was dark out and no one was around, so she didn't have to worry about looking silly. Adjusting her backpack straps over her shoulders more securely, she started walking towards the train terminal. This was always the worst part of her day; going home. It was the only time she couldn't distract herself with her studies, the only time she couldn't hide away her true feelings. These were the times they came out, and she had to deal with just how utterly isolated and alone she felt.
The train ride wasn't that long. She and her brother, Yuuki, shared a large two-bedroom apartment relatively close to Tokyo U. Before, the two of them had lived in a smaller town called Ugo, but once her brother's computer skills landed him an I.T. job at one of the Goshichi Corporation offices, they made the move. Yuuki wasn't much older than Tomoko was. Like her, he was brilliant in what he did, and the Goshichi heads saw that. He had been hired on the spot without any formal training, even paying for him to make a permanent move to Tokyo. This worked out perfectly for Tomoko, as the plan was always for her to attend Tokyo U.
When she arrived at the apartment, Tomoko wondered if Yuuki was home or not. Like herself, he worked long hours. Lately, however, he had been making trips back and forth to nearby Utsunomiya in order to see an old flame of his. Tomoko wasn't sure she approved of this, as the ex-girlfriend had broken his heart back in High School, but he was an adult now and she had no say over what he could and couldn't do. Luckily for her, she found him in the living room, tinkering with a Njorun Headset.
"I'm home." Tomoko announced as softly as she could. Unlike that playful work study, she didn't want to give her brother a heart attack.
"Welcome home, Tomo."
'Tomo' or 'Tomo-chan' was what he and everyone back in Ugo used to call her. In return she called him 'Yuu' or 'Yuu-kun'. It wasn't exactly breaking the record of originality, but it still was a nickname she loved hearing him call her. 'Tomo' made her sound cuter than she really was. He looked up from his work, giving a heavy blink. He looked exhausted. "How was you day?"
"Same as usual." Tomoko spoke in a dull voice, dropping her backpack by the door next to her shoes. She walked over to the couch and sat down. She looked down at her brother, who was on the floor with tools all over the place. "What's that you got there?"
"The suits want to have a DD (Digital Dimensional) Meeting. Before they Digital Dive, I want to make sure this headset it working properly."
Four years ago, this statement would have sounded like gibberish to Tomoko. But then again, four years ago there was no Digital Dimension. A company out of Norway, called The Aesir Institution, had created a second internet. After registering and making an Aesir account, this "internet" allowed users to scan themselves to the Aesir Network by creating avatars called Proxies. Once this digital duplicates were created, the user could then interact physically with others on the Network in a cyber environment. In short, It was like virtual reality, but better. Because the information was linked with the user's mind; tastes, smells, and touch were also possible along with seeing and hearing. It was a break through in technology, but more or less a novelty. Slowly, the public saw the potential of such a devise, and Digital Diving gained popularity with the new programs being introduced.
Like the internet, people could connect from all over the world. Unlike the internet, these people could physically interact with other users. So programmers catered to both the casual market and the business one. Setting up a conference call could be replaced by attending a cyber board meeting. Cybersex could now really feel like actual sex. Families could go on vacations without leaving an Aesir Center where Njorun full-body chambers were offered. If one could afford a home Njorun Headset, then making phone calls were like sitting down with that person at a cafe.
Aside from all that, what really was standing out in this infant industry were the games. The few that where made available were revolutionizing how games were to be played. Dive Games were still too expensive for the average person to take home, so Aesir Arcades were popping up in big cities throughout the world. Paying for a few hours in a Njorun Chamber could be the most exciting experience ever, as the possibilities in this type of gaming were endless.
While Tomoko was aware of all this, like many around the world, it wasn't something she used on a regular bases. Because of her brother, she considered herself tech-savvy, which was why she they had played around with Digital Diving in the first place. The first time she Dived, she and her brother used the Aesir Network to meet with their parents. Their folks lived in America now, but on using a headset Tomoko actually was able to hug and kiss her mother. It was amazing. Since then family calls happened every other week. Not only that, but Tomoko had experimented with several other Aesir programs, but so far she hadn't tried anything too crazy.
"If you're having to fix those headsets every time they want to have a board meeting, it can't be very safe." Tomoko commented, looking at Yuuki's dismantled Njorun Headset.
"The headsets are reliable. This one just keeps breaking because Hojo-san keeps throwing it on his desk when he's done using it." Yuuki explained. "The company is tired of buying him new ones, so they've asked me to see what I can do."
"Oh." Tomoko nodded, but wasn't really interested.
"Speaking of Hojo-san…" Yuuki sat up, then pushed himself to his feet. He reached into his pocket, dug out a folded up piece of paper, then handed it to his younger sister. "I'm supposed to give this to you."
"A phone number?" Tomoko read the now unfolded paper. lifting her head up, she gave Yuuki a puzzled expression. "Hojo-san wants to talk to me?"
"No!" Yuuki waved his hands, laughing a bit at himself. "Sorry. Hojo-san's secretary gave this to me. She used to live in Ugo as well. She recognized my surname somehow, and wrote down this number and asked me to give it to you."
"Oookkaaayyy?" Tomoko wasn't sure she knew any secretaries. "Who is she?"
"She's…. uh… the thing is… " Yuuki started, but stopped himself. After a moment he took a different approach. "I don't want to spoil the surprise. You should call that number. I think you'll be excited to find out who it is."
Tomoko didn't really like surprises. "Come on, tell me who it is already!"
"Nope." Yuuki stuck to his guns. "I think you'll have more fun this way."
Groaning a bit, Tomoko stood up, re-folded paper, then started for her bedroom. "I'm going to take a bath. Do you want me to cook afterwards, or-"
"I'll do it." Yuuki announced. "I'm tired of messing with this headset anyway."
Tomoko went into her room and shut the door behind her. Once alone she gave a exhale, as if she was expelling all the problems of the day away. Standing there for a moment, she sniffed a bit, then walked over to her desk. Reaching into her shorts, she emptied her pockets of her smart phone, keys, and various other items into her computer desk. Then she placed the folded paper on top of her phone. She was curious about who it could be, but she also didn't like being put on the spot like that. Stepping away from the mystery, she pulled out the hair-band holding her ponytail, she shook her head, letting her semi-long hair fall down her upper back. After taking a moment for herself, she then took off her glasses and undressed.
If she was being honest with herself, she was being a bit over indulgent with her bath time. She knew that Yuuki probably was waiting on her so he could do the finishing touches on dinner, but she didn't care. The best times in her life at the moment were these warm bathes. Even if she was alone, the warm water comforted her. It was the only time she could shut up her mind and just relax.
"Tomo-chan, dinner." Yuuki called when he couldn't wait for her any longer.
"Sorry. I'll be out in a moment." Tomoko apologized.
At first she dreaded leaving her warm cocoon of water, but now that she knew that hot food was waiting for her, her stomach growled. That was all it took. In an instant, she was out of the bath, drying herself off, and placing a bathrobe over herself. On exiting the bathroom, she went immediately into the dining area to get a whiff of the meal her brother had made.
"Spaghetti!" Tomoko cheered.
"I thought we'd go western tonight." Yuuki's voice came from the kitchen. "Plus I really wanted some meatballs."
"You made meatballs?!" Tomoko danced a little bit form where she stood. "Hold on, let me get dressed!"
"You're naked?" Yuuki questioned her, but she ignored him. "You don't live alone, you know!"
"Yeah, yeah…" She dashed to her room and put on some pajamas.
The meal was excellent. Then again, Yuuki knew she loved Spaghetti. It was her favorite meal. She wondered for a moment if he was sucking up to her, but she couldn't see why he would. There wasn't anything he wanted from her that she was aware of. Maybe he was trying to be extra nice because he knew she didn't approve of his sleeping around with his ex-girlfriend. She had told him time and time again that it wasn't her business, but he seemed to still want her approval. How could she approve of something like that though? His ex-girlfriend was a manipulative bitch.
"Thanks for the meal." Tomoko thanked him again once she had finished. "I can wash up, if you want."
Yuuki thought it over then asked. "Did you call that number yet?"
"Then let me handle it. I think you'll want to take that phone call."
Tomoko glared at him. "Who is it? Why do you want me to call this person so badly?"
"I told you that it's supposed to be a surprise." He countered.
"Yuu…" Tomoko pouted. She decided it was time to use her little sister powers. Doing everything she could, she tried to look as cute as possible. "I don't like surprises! Just tell me already."
Yuuki rolled his eyes and flicked her forehead with his index finger. "That's not gonna working on me, Tomo."
"Ouch!" Tomoko rubbed her head, though it didn't really hurt that bad. "You're being mean!"
"Just call the number already! I'm telling you, you'll thank me later!"
"Fine!" Tomoko snorted, then pushed her legs away from the table and stood up. "I'll do it now, since you're being so insistent."
"Finally." Yuuki said, standing up as well. "Have fun!"
Giving him a look, she stepped out of the dining area, then made her way back to her bedroom. Closing her door again, she walked over to her phone and looked at the paper laying on top of it. This was so weird. Just who in the world did her brother want her to call? Unfolding the paper, she placed it on the desk, then picked up her phone and dialed the number.
The phone rang several times. As it did, her stomach felt like there were butterflies. Why was she so nervous? The phone on the other end kept ringing and ringing. After about a minute, Tomoko thought she better hang up. As soon as she was about to do this, suddenly the person on the other end answered.
"Hello? Who is this?"
It was a female voice, probably a younger woman. Tomoko wasn't sure she recognized it, but it did spark something in her mind. Swallowing a bit, she awkwardly tried to explain the situation.
"Hi. Uh, I don't think you know me, but someone told me to call this number. I don't know why, they said it's supposed to be a surprise. My name is Tomoko Togawa. Does that name mean anything to you?"
"Tomoko Togawa?" The woman pondered. Then there was a realization in her voice. "Tomo-chan? Tomo-chan from Uga Junior High School?"
"Y-Yeah, that's me? You know who I am?"
"Yes! Yes, and you know me too, dummy!" There was a sound of a beeping chime, then all at once the voice's pitched changed a bit higher. Now Tomoko understood why she both recognized it and didn't. It was a voice changer. "Tomo-chan, it's me! It's Aoi Matsuno! Remember me now?"