Special Prep Class 4 at AsunaroJuku
Thirty minutes had gone by at Cafe Shamburi before Makoto found the capitol
of Fukushima Prefecture.  The digital watch Makoto had put on the table
blipped softly in sync with the light waltz playing in the background.
 Makoto shook the clouded image of the blank map out of his head.  It was
more important to advance according to schedule, rather than find the correct
answer to the drill-book question.  He got his things together within a
minute, grabbed the bill (he'd already put the x500 coin on top of it), and
rushed to the register.
 It was a quick eight-minute walk to the station.  He took the 5:03 p.m.
train, which got him to the sixth station in fifteen minutes, then he
transferred and ran, sliding into the peach-colored train already waiting on
the other side of the platform. Before it reached the fifth station, Makoto
had made his way to the third car of the train.  It was a thirteen-minute
ride.  From there, he walked fifteen minutes to juku.  Following the movement
of his digital watch made him feel on top of things.
 That day, getting off at the fifth station, Makoto's steps were way ahead of
schedule as he walked toward Asunaro Juku , which was in a building full of
other offices.  He wanted to tell his friends what he'd heard about Life King
Version V as soon as possible.

Makoto rushed into the room, bursting with excitement, only to find that the
"Asunaro Juku  Special Prep Class 4" was strangely animated - not at all its
usual hospital-waiting-room quiet.  A new rumor had made the room feverish.
 Nobody went crazy, but the whispers raised the fever pitch even more.
 "No-Life King?"
 "They say it's software made by the devil."
 "No, it isn't.  It's the orginal Version V."
 "That's right.  That's the one where if you make a single mistake, the
game's up."
 "I'll get burned out if I play that game."
 "Some kid solved Version V--completely up to the Dark Mystery."
 "But he had a heart attack just before going back to The Room.
 "He threw up blood."
 "They said 'No-Life King' is cursed by that kid's spirit."
So everyone already knew about Version V.  Makoto was incredibly disappointed
that this information was common knowledge.
 "They say every kid who's ever played Disu-kon is gonna be cursed."
 "Oh, no!"
 "And if you can't solve the game,  you'll be the first to get killed."
 "Your family, too."
 "Well, if that's the case, I wanna eat as many pork buns as possible before
I get knocked off."
 "You fool!"
 "Anyone who tells this to an adult is supposed to be the very first ones to
 "I heard that, too."
 "To kill or be killed.  That's it, isn't it?"
 "It's a duel!"
 "The last day of mankind."
 "I'm ace at killing the first FATS, so I'm not gonna get killed so soon."
 "Where in the world do they sell that software?"
 "Even if they sell it, I don't want to buy it!"
 "But, we'll get killed unless we play it."
 "The curse might already have gotten to Life King."
 "Rewrite the code!"
 "Stop it!  You're scaring me."
This small cosmos the kids' frantic whispering had created felt one Big Bang
one after another.  Their bodies had already practically melted down by the
time the young juku instructor entered the classroom.  They all stopped
talking when they saw the square face of the instructor, whom they secretly
called "Pentagon," and turned to the computer screens at their desks.
 "I'll take roll."  The kids turned on the computers as if nothing had
happened.  Pi...pi...pi.  All thirty computers turned on simultaneously at
the sound, reflecting their green light on the kids' faces.
 Asunaro Juku was one of a chain of juku, which had used teaching computers
as its main selling point.  The twelve Asunaro branches all over Japan were
controlled by the host computer at the Tokyo headquarters.  This allowed them
to make a "simultaneous comparison of the students' answers" in an instant.
 "You have enemies all over the country," was Asunaro Juku's motto. 
  On screen were the attendance records of the "Top men" in the thirteen
branches.  The "Top men" were those with the highest standing in their
classes."  All the other kids were encouraged to challenge them. 
 Makoto hit the keyboard to enter his attendance and turned his eyes to
Sapporo branch column.  Yohta Koyama was there.  Yohta was the "top man" of
Sapporo  He was  #"S-8," which could be connected to "T-8," Makoto's
terminal, for a chat.  Each computer terminal could display information about
"top men" all over the country.  They could all chat directly with each other
at an optional terminal.
 "Pentagon" glanced at the computer screen on his desk,  made a printout and
started the lesson immediately.  All the branches started the first lesson at
exactly the same time.  It was a "random trial exam."  Without confirming the
lesson plan for the children, "Pentagon" read their I.D. numbers very fast so
as not to waste time.  The kids' screens had already turned to the "random
trial exam."  They hit the keys after each instruction given in Pentagon's
nervous, sometimes falsetto voice.
 403...lowercase "a"
 "Which city has the second largest population in Japan?"  The kids had to
answer the question as if it was a conditioned reflex.  "O-S-A-K-A"  Makoto's
small fingers danced clumsily on the keyboard.  
 Once, on the way home from a class observation session for parents, Mamiko
sat a cafe, digging a cherry out of the chololate parfait.  It's more like a
typing class than a juku, she had said.  Yes, the kid's fingers really hit
those keys fast.
 On finishing the twentieth question, Pentagon said in a shrill voice, "You
have enemies all over Japan."   Twenty answers to twenty questions...and in
each blank space under each question, there was the answer of the kid to
whose terminal it was connected.
 "The correct answers will now appear."  Pentagon said in a loud voice, again
not lifting his eyes from the screen.  The correct answers appeared in a
scattered manner on the screen's blank space.  Makoto had gotten seven out of
twenty questions wrong; his correct answers matched neatly with the other
correct ones.
 Yohta Koyama must have studied hard, preparing and reviewing over and over
again, in order to have such a neat line-up of correct answers on the screen.
 Makoto imagined Yohta to be that kind of kid, and that was why he respected
him.  Makoto waited patiently.  He really wanted to chat with Yohta in the
"re-examination" space at the bottom of the screen.  He could enter up to
thirty characters there.
 A couple of seconds later,  Pentagon's loud voice choed "re-examination," in
the classroom, Makoto was breathless, and felt more so than usual that day.
 He had to tell Yohta about No-Life King as soon as possible....
 Makoto, however, didn't begin the conversation.  As usual, he waited for
Yohta to enter and then he answered Yohta's question and typed in what he
wanted to tell him.  He was always somehow nervous that he'd displease Yohta.
 "M-A-K-O..."  Yohta emerged from the dark screen.  The only thing that moved
freely in the screen were Yohta's letters.
 "...T-O...."  The soundless words called to Makoto from the other side.
 Makoto read letter for letter, changing letters into words spoken in
familiar voice.  It almost made him cry.  Yohta's voice filled his head,
gradually penetrating into his brain without resistance.  It was calling
 Makoto's small fingers moved freely. ...YES...His fingers paid their utmost
attention to how many letters he was using up.  Yohta always "talked"
fluently, as if he knew all the answers from the beginning.
 "WHAT ARE THEY SAYING ABOUT NO-LIFE KING?"  So Yohta, too, already knew
about the rumor of No-Life King.  Makoto sighed at his second disappointment
of the day, but there was not much time left.  He had to answer Yohta's
question quickly, or otherwise, the second lesson would start and Yohta's
voice would disappear to the darkness.   Makoto tried to buck up, but how
could he possibly inform Yohta of the situation in his Juku  with only
twenty-seven characters?
 Well, first of all...a theme!  Makoto remembered what he learned at a
special composition class.  I'll create a really cool message in only
twenty-seven characters to blow Yohta away.
 WE'LL BE KILLED IF NOT SOLVED.  Makoto stopped to think.   Fourteen
characters were left.  He had to give a real example, but the second lesson
was about to begin.  He grabbed a pen and started writing a draft on the
slippery desk.
All the sentences went over fourteen characters.  Besides, they all missed
the main point.  Makoto looked at Pentagon, who opened the teaching manual
and then glanced nervously at the clock over the blackboard.  He couldn't be
late for the next lesson, held simultaneously at all the Asunaro Juku s all
over Japan.  Only thirteen seconds were left.
 Makoto decided just to put in something.  However incomplete his sentences
were; he didn't want to lose Yohta.  He pushed up the sleeves of his red
sweatshirt, placed his fingers on the keyboard and entered:
         "Get ready next for the geometry questions," Pentagon said.  Makoto
could only leave the rest to his reflexes.
 "Begin the first question now!"
 ...SOLVE WILL BE KILLED.  As soon as Makoto hit the twenty-third character,
Yohta's words disappeared.  The remaining characters were still at the tips
of Makoto's fingers.


Copyright (C) SEIKO ITO , EMPIRE SNAKE BLD,INC. All rights reserved.