The Straw Millionaire, the Cat, and the Princess Volume 1 Chapter 5 part 1

Chapter Five: Cybernetics, Cats, and Sunglasses
 

 
“So, the dragon materials were exchanged while everyone was having a drinking party?”
 
“…Yes, I’m sorry.”
 
On the night after returning from the deadly mission, I, who had been dragged around drinking establishments until midday by Kimu and Kaneki, having ditched both university and part-time work and slept, was being logically cornered by the cat, Mars. Mars didn’t seem to think much of joining in the festivities either. However, it was my responsibility to handle the exchange at the junkyard, and I couldn’t make any excuses for my blunder.
 
“I’m not particularly angry about the exchange itself, you know. After all, there’s no use for such things on Earth.”
 
“Yeah… I see…”
 
“But you know, being careless is troublesome. It won’t help with future deals.”
 
“You’re right…”
 
“And since the places we used to make money have been shut down, we need to be a little more careful. Just like when we fought the dragon.”
 
Saying that, Mars turned on the TV. “I’ll be careful…”
 
[The closure of Tokyo’s third dungeon was announced at noon today. A Self-Defense Forces exploration team has begun an investigation into the cause of the collapse…]
 
“Ah, you’re not going to mention the dragon after all?”
 
“Well, I can’t, can I? If people knew there was something like that, everyone in Tokyo would flee to the countryside. We’re also under a gag order.”
 
“There are too many people in this city anyway. A slight decrease wouldn’t hurt, I think.”
 
As Mars said this, he yawned loudly. Even by space standards, Tokyo’s overcrowding was ridiculous. But I was still sleepy… and there was still some alcohol left.
 
“So, what was the dragon exchanged for?”
 
“I’m not sure about that. It said something about [Zaut High-Speed Computational Assistance Unit (Awakening)].”
 
“Huh? Can you show me?”
 
When I placed the matte black, distorted spherical object on the table, Mars began to inspect it, making it roll around the table with his paw, sniffing and examining it. As he rolled it around, he looked more and more like a real cat, and just as I thought that, our eyes met.
 
Not Mars’ eyes. Two golden eyes opened on the surface of the sphere.
 
“Wow!”
 
As I exclaimed and recoiled with all my might, Mars turned his face toward me, looking annoyed.
 
“What? You’re making a scene.”
 
“The eyes! They’re… eyes!”
 
The golden eyes glanced around the room before fixing their gaze on my face. Being stared at with those lifeless eyes gave me a kind of unease I had never felt before.
 
“Of course it has eyes. It’s a brain shell.”
 
“A brain shell!?”
 
“It means it contains a human brain. It’s a part of a cyborg. My grandpa was a cyborg, too. We used to go to the dealer together.”
 
“That’s…! That’s…! Who’s…?”
 
“You can’t tell just by looking at it. But… I can tell this unit is dangerous.”
 
Mars rolled the brain shell and pointed to a distorted triangular mark on the opposite side of the eyes.
 
“Look at this. It says it’s using patents owned by the largest galaxy police force in the galaxy.”
 
“So…? Is that person a soldier?”
 
“It means they’re using parts with exorbitant patent fees. The person inside is probably not a soldier. Zaut is a high-end cyborg company for entertainment purposes, and above all, the specifications are too special.”
 
He tapped the brain shell with his paw and said with a displeased look.
 
“Don’t just take the information written on the surface at face value… This is probably specialized for computation. In military terms, it would be specialized electronic warfare equipment.”
 
“I don’t understand at all, but is that amazing?”
 
“Well, to put it in terms even you can understand… if you connect this person to a network, they could handle something like the administration of Japan on their own.”
 
“That’s incredible!”
 

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And scary. It’s like a machine for firing civil servants.
 
“But if there’s a person inside, isn’t that dangerous as it is? Can’t we connect it to something?”
 
“Hmm, but these items seem like they drifted from pirates, right? Uh… oh, here they call it the Trojan Horse, don’t they? That’s also a possibility.”
 
Mars said that, but imagining myself in the same situation, I was already feeling uneasy. If I were conscious but unable to move, thrown into a warehouse like this… it sent shivers down my spine, definitely not something I’d be okay with.
 
They say what goes around comes around. If there was a chance to help, I wanted to assist this person.
 
“Indeed, that’s risky… but can’t we at least try to hear them out?” I suggested.
 
“The brainshell is all about performance and maintaining life, so it doesn’t have any unnecessary interfaces. Oh, but I might have something…,”
 
Mars replied, fetching a barrier cloth they had been washing and drying, and started wrapping it around the brainshell.
 
“What happens when you wrap it like that?” I asked.
 
“Well, even though the brainshell emits weak thought waves, if we use this force field conductor fabric as an amplifier, we might be able to pick them up. It’s not its intended use, though.”
 
“Like turning up the volume on a radio picking up stray radio waves?” I offered.
 
“I’m not sure if I follow that analogy,”
 
They connected the galactic police’s life support device and the barrier cloth to a space TV, tweaking the tuning little by little while their ears twitched. Though the image didn’t appear, the static noise gradually diminished, sometimes turning into a high pitch or a deep rumble. After about three minutes of adjustments, there was a brief moment where something resembling a human voice could be heard.
 
“Hey!”
 
“It seems to be working,” Mars said.
 
As Mars continued fine-tuning, the voice gradually became clearer. At the same time, the eye-like protrusions on the brainshell started darting around busily. From the holovision, a voice in an indistinct, genderless language began to emerge.
 
[“…Seems like I’ve been captured… Please don’t send me back…”]
 
“What are they saying?”
 
“Help me, don’t send me back there,”
 
“It’s okay, we won’t send you back. You’re safe now,”
 
As I gently stroked the smooth brainshell, my hand was met with a pat from Mars’s paw.
 
“There might be some noise,”
 
“Oh, sorry about that…”
 
[“…Captured by the Redol Guild, don’t want to go back, scared…”]
 
“It seems they’ve been captured by the Redol Guild and are terrified of returning,” “The Redol Guild is a widely designated pirate organization across the galaxy.”
 
“Are they dangerous?”
 
“There’s no such thing as a non-dangerous pirate, but Redol does some legitimate business, so they’re relatively better. In frontier star systems, dealing with Redol is often the only option, so there are regions where they’re not considered pirates.”
 
“Wait, trading with pirates is possible?”
 
“The galaxy is short on people like that. There have been wars, both ancient and recent, that have lasted for millennia,”
 
A thousand years… the scale of the galaxy is truly immense.
 
[“…Can you hear me?… I don’t want to go back…”]
 
“That sounds like some sort of code. They must have something important to communicate, but in this remote area disconnected from the network, we can’t decode it,”
 
As the galaxy’s verbose cat muttered to themselves, they began writing space characters on a piece of paper. Since it was space language, I couldn’t understand any of it, but the urgency of the person’s thoughts seemed to come through with each repetition of the same words. After listening intently for about ten minutes, Mars sighed and stretched their arms above their head.
 
“Their thoughts seem to be looping. I don’t think we can do much more,” Mars said.
 
“Can’t we have a dialogue with them?”
 
“Due to the nature of the brainshell, by exposing it like this, we’re just taking advantage of its inability to block thought waves. We’re only peeking into the surface of their thoughts. On the flip side, it means they can’t lie, which makes it useful for interrogation,”
 
“Thought eavesdropping actually exists…”
 
“What’s that?”
 
Mars asked, looking puzzled as they removed the cloth wrapped around the brainshell.
 
“For now, I guess this is as far as we can go,”
 
“I, uh, Mars…,”
 
“I know what you’re thinking. You want to do something about this, right? I’m sure that Tonbo are the only ones who can do something about this on this planet.”
 
I nodded in agreement with Mars. It was only yesterday that I had been risking my life. However, from now on, I thought it would be okay to offer this person some help if I ever got it a cybernetic body.
 
Compared to the sturdy adventurers, my abilities are lacking, and I’m not brave. But if I can do something for others within my reach, even if I don’t directly receive anything in return, I’m sure there will be gains. Through the reckless actions of risking my life yesterday, I somehow began to have such thoughts.


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