TLNC Chapter 13 – Realta Neue

Realta Neue

“Why are you saluting us? You are a security guard, not military.”

After laughing at the security guard for no reason, and grabbing a manga out of his hands Stella proceeded into the Laboratory and I followed her. First, there was the reception, a large hall which had a table behind which an out-of-place-looking receptionist girl in office attire and glasses immediately stood up and greeted us with a practised welcoming smile, which only made me more uncomfortable. But what was more unnerving were the taxidermized animals lining up the hall, there was a tiger, a deer, a bear, and a mammoth? That must be a fake, right? Of course. The cloning accusations against the Foundation and Desire Institute were baseless fantasies dreamed up by genuine crackpots, grifters, and corporate agents trying to muddy the narrative by sending fools on a wild goose chase.

We took a lift to the top floor which was a large room full of ancient-looking computers with CRT monitors with two-inch wide bezels and rear casings longer than my forearm. Men and women in lab coats sat hunched in front of those 14-inch displays while emitting loud keyboard strokes. Makoto was working on one of the computers but she hadn’t noticed me. At the centre of the computer room was a row of Okidata Microline 321 dot matrix printers which were intermittently making undulating whirring noises while spitting out rolls of paper with perforated edges. The lab members then tore off the printed sheets.

“Not what I’d expected for a modern laboratory.”

Where were all the sleek computers, server racks and other high-tech equipment? Were they hidden somewhere? Then again why were they all wearing lab coats in this computer room? It’s not like they were working with chemicals or anything like that. I felt like I would elicit a negative reaction if I asked that question so I kept it to myself.

“Older computer terminals are more simple and therefore more secure,” Stella explained. “It’s also Director Teufel-chan’s aesthetic choice… I don’t really mind what the terminals look like. It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”

I didn’t question her judgement since I didn’t know much about computers. Maybe that was why I was chosen by the foundation for this job, just like Makoto had been chosen for hers. I bet Professor Stella must think I was playing the fool to make her think like I didn’t know anything about anything, little did she know that that was the truth.

“I can’t talk about the research that we’re doing here, since it’s Classified Information.”

“Well, that puts me in quite the bind, I need to have something to write for my newspaper report funded by the Foundation.”

“Can’t you write a nice article, about a paid trip you had on a tropical island or a remote location? Isn’t that what you reporters do anyway?”

“Oh pretty please don’t take those stereotypes about reporters seriously. Well, anyway, you can send me away now but it won’t make the rumours about this place go away, Professor Stella. The Inter-Conglomerate “Round Table” Committee of 300’s 74th Forum’s Plenary Session leaked minutes highlighted space-time irregularities in the vicinity of this island. Do you think it’s a coincidence that right after the Round Table’s leaked report, I was sent here by one of the most prominent Newspapers owned by Airstrip One’s executive board members? If I don’t get some reasonable answers out to the public in my report things could get outright gnarly, a full-on revolt by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and the Northern Rock Building Society is not something even the Foundation could scoff at!”

Of course, I had no idea what the hell an “irregularity in space-time” even meant, the true contents of the Round Table’s meetings were a tightly guarded secret, and my accusations were just based on rumours, but like a good journalist, I had to switch from pretending to know nothing to pretending to know things I didn’t know when it was convenient for me.

This wasn’t the first time the Round Table had made some noise about this island, but so long as the other members were allowed to do their own shady dealings they wouldn’t actually do anything other than make noise just as the League of Nations that they were based on…

No, this report was really something done just at the whims of the WEEF’s director, Dr. Randolf Teufel von Hölle. I still recall his carefree but wistful smile, though I could not see his eyes through his pink-hued shades. He talked to me at The Times‘ editor’s office room. I had not expected the Foundation’s director Himself to show up so I was more than a little bit hesitant when the receptionist at The Times HQ told me on the phone to come down to meet the director. He wanted to speak to me in private. I thought it must have been some kind of prank but she assured me in an annoyed tone that it was for real before she hung up on me. The director’s words of resignation, uttered as he sat on the editor’s chair, still echoed in my mind, “It’s so over, but it just won’t end. When you’re there meet me at Room 101.” He didn’t elaborate on anything and just left. Back then I felt that Dr. Teufel was just a conspiratorial old man losing track of reality but unwilling to release his grip on power. There were many such cases.

Stella crossed her legs and lighted another cigarette. The laws must not really apply, you can’t get away with smoking in a workplace these days, not even in the Neo-Eastasia Co-Prosperity Sphere (NECOS).

“You have got guts to talk like that, kid, despite how you got beaten up by the Teufel girl! Now that was gnarly! Ah, it’s such a shame that I wasn’t there to see and participate, but it sounds like you’re up for a reprisal of your role as a punching bag!”

She laughed in a carefree way rather than like a mad woman, which made her look younger strangely, which would be fine if she wasn’t laughing at me. Oh well, I guess my empty threat did not work.

“Please don’t bring that up.”

This trip may already have given me a trauma but that’s not what my column’s readers want to read about.

“Teufel-chan’s a feisty one, true. Did you know that Teufel means Devil in German? Kleiner Teufel even dared to get into a fight with me. Over that disreputable establishment of hers north of the island. Imagine that, they had to get medical to look over both of us. Bunch of overreacting sissies… I wish I could tell you about it. A scoop about the feisty Director! And the Great Scientist Stella with a checkered past as a biker gang leader! I have to go now but haven’t you got someone else you’d rather talk to?”

Stella left me seated on the couch there, in this library-like room and took the lift back down to the -1 level. An underground floor? The parking was outside, so I wondered what was down there. There weren’t any security checks so far, other than the manga-reading moustachioed guard, so maybe I could check that out later, discreetly.

I looked back at my notes and wondered, ‘What was this interview?’

I walked over to Makoto. There was no reaction on her face as she turned to me. Her glassy eyes looked as emotionless as ever through thick-rimmed spectacles. Good. I would have to visit a good doctor or join the post-female technoreclusion if the trashy behaviour of some of the women on this island had been transferred to her.

Makoto had always been a quiet book girl. In any case, two other researchers were working there right next to her, one scrawny and short, the other fat and tall so I couldn’t ask her too many questions. I tried to understand what she was doing but when I looked at the screen all I could see was white lines of text running on a black screen at a speed faster than any normal human could read. And yet when I looked at her I could her eyes rapidly following through every line. How was she able to read that fast? And yet I knew she was not pretending to work as I had seen her read whole books like that and recall everything perfectly. I guess it would take someone with a skill like a photographic memory to get to work here. Of course, geniuses do tend to have something wrong with their heads, which reminded me of the incident with Teufel again.

I decided to try to read the books in the small library adjacent to the computer lab but as far as I could tell they were manuals on how to operate old computers. Nothing of any interest for my report caught my eye but I took some pictures of the place anyway. When they were done with their work I left the place with Makoto and the other two researchers although it seemed like there would be others to carry on the work once we had left. It was dark outside and we were thirsty, so we grabbed some Max Coffee from one of the vending machines dotted about the island. I wondered if there was any wildlife even though it was an artificial island. Most of the people at Research Island had to move on foot, as only some eccentric senior researchers were allowed to drive around without any rules.

“The Global Gadgets laboratory is just one of the ten or so labs at the complex.” Explained the scrawny researcher, ” You could say we are the most outward-facing of the labs as some of our products have already hit the market. Of course, we are not supposed to know exactly what the other labs are researching but… rumours spread because scientists want to brag about what they’re working on to their peers naturally.”

I liked where this conversation was going. Maybe this trip was going to be worth it and I wasn’t going to be scolded by my boss for going to a secretive research institute and coming back without a story.

“You want to know what the ones at the Realta Neue team are working on?”

“Wait… Are you really sure you should be saying this to a journo?” The fattie objected getting in between us. Meanwhile, Makoto was just staring at the full moon in the sky without a care in the world.

“It will be fine. We weren’t supposed to know anything about it in the first place. It’s just too ridiculous to be true but it is hahaha. As you may have noticed, Mr Journalist, our lab likes to use old-fashioned computers, so thanks to that I was able to stumble upon an unpatched 50-year-old vulnerability that let me access the underground data centre where all data is backed up. Of course, like a good lab member, I reported my findings to the higher-ups who patched up this vulnerability, but not before I could find something on the Realta Neue team who had snubbed our research into robotics as unrealistic through an anonymous message on the Desire internal BBS message forum. I haven’t told anyone else other than Yamada and Makoto here, the truth is that the Realta Neue lab is working on a dating simulator.”

“Yes,” Yamada concurred. “I know it’s hard to believe but I saw it with my own eyes. They had the gall to insult our research as superfluous while wasting billions working on a galge. Of course, the data has all been deleted now. If we had known a journalist would have shown up… We would have kept it but now it’s much too late. You see, we didn’t want to risk detection.”

After walking on the path illuminated by street lights emitting a nostalgic yellow hue we reached a modern-looking cylindrical-shaped building with clean lines, a minimalist aesthetic and large windows. The building looked like it was at least nine storeys tall.

“This is the Enright House,” Tanaka explained, having taken over the job of showing me around from Professor Stella. “Our living quarters are on the seventh floor. I’d say most of the staff comes back here to sleep or when they’re to working, at this building, except for some weirdos who sleep at their laboratories, like Prof Stella, but don’t tell her I said that.”

We entered through a glass automatic door. The ground floor of the Einright House consisted of a large cafeteria with a buffet though now it seemed to be closing down. It reminded me of my university, or maybe of the eating quarters on the Ise-class destroyer I was posted at for a report a few years ago.

“Before she left Prof Stella gave me this for you..” Tanaka handed me a card with my photo on it and some details. When did they get this photo of me, actually I never smile like that, nor do I remember giving them my biometric details?

“Oh right, I guess I owe you some explanation. You’ll need that to enter your room and for other stuff. The photo looks weird because it’s based on an amalgamation of photos taken by the island’s cameras since you landed here, superimposed on a 3D model. It’s the reason why we all have that weird smile on our ID cards. As for your biometric details, they probably got them from Airstrip Two or One, what difference does it make.”

Now that I looked at the card it seemed they had pulled the photo from a corporate identity service which all Airstrip Two residents have to register. I guess there must have been some sub-clause in the terms of service allowing the foundation to access my data.

Yamada and Tanaka took off for the cafeteria. I could have had some coffee with them to try to get some more information out of them but I knew from experience, that asking too many questions at once was just going to make them lose my trust. I had time, so I could probe them for more rumours later.

Just as I was headed for the lift, Makoto pulled the cuffs of my shirt and pointed at the other lift which was farther away. Why? I was too exhausted to ask so I trusted her judgement and just got on the other lift with her. Makoto was always this unemotional but by a slight movement in her eyelashes, I could see that something was wrong.

I escorted her to her room… After about twenty minutes I left for my room which was located just ahead after a turn on the corridor. I had failed to ascertain what if anything was troubling Makoto, maybe I just imagined it, but at least I was able to release some pent-up energy from not meeting her for so long. I reflected on the day’s events as I passed the guest pass through the card reader in different directions until I fumbled and dropped my card in front of someone’s oversized boots. I looked up. It was a tanned man with ashen blond hair in camo pants and a tank top. He had his arms crossed and had a grin on his face like he wanted to tell me something as he tapped his finger on the side of his arms. For some reason his fingerless gloves reminded me of Prof Stella, I guess I sensed this wasn’t going to end well.

“What do you want?” I said, too exhausted to be polite.

The man tried to lift me up by the cuff of my shirt but I pushed him away.

“What the hell do you want!?”

If only that damned card they had made by stealing my personal details had worked I wouldn’t have to deal with a third gorilla today as I would be in my room. If only I had a weapon with me… But the only thing I had was Makoto’s camera, and I didn’t want to break it by getting into a fight with this meathead. If only… If only… I was running out of options, my physical attributes were those of the typical reporter, while this man looked like he used some steroids. Well, at least he wasn’t much taller than me. Maybe The Times should have sent one of our war reporters? No it was too early to give up on my scoop!

“What were you doing in Izumi’s room!?” The man shouted at me with a fiery look in his eyes. The question took me off guard as that wasn’t something I had expected him to say and before I could respond he punched me in the ribs causing me to slam into the door of a nearby room where the corridor turned. I half-heartedly hoped that whoever was inside would open the door, but even if they were there, and heard the commotion, they would purposefully keep their door closed to not get involved.

I didn’t have any combat skills but I was certain that as a regular runner, I had more strength in my lower body, so I tried to hit him with a high kick. Obviously, I missed as I was too far away from him, but unexpectedly the oversized steel-toed boot that I had borrowed from the hangar and worn in discomfort all day, came off of my foot and flew straight into the assailant’s, knocking him unconscious. I guess he was too shocked to react on time, as he had a look of bewilderment as the steel-toed boot hit his face. All’s well that ends well but was it really over? I looked at him now, it didn’t look like I had accidentally killed a man in this ridiculous fashion. There was some blood coming from his nose and a bulge on his head but he seemed fine. I was more worried for my own safety so I got my things, entered the room and locked the door behind me.

“Now, what the hell was that about?”

It wasn’t even anything that would make my report more interesting. “Attacked by a redheaded beauty and a meathead thug on a secretive research facility,” would only work as a sub-heading for a third-rate tabloid newspaper. In other words, no one would believe it.

The Light Novel Club

The Light Novel Club

Status: Ongoing Author: Released: 2024
Ishikawa Isshin, a freshman at North High has decided to join his high school's Light Novel Club, hoping to get some inspiration and quiet, to work on his novel for a light novel writing contest. Unfortunately for Isshin, the club's non-talkative bibliophilic book girl and old-tech obsessed club president, Izumi, as well as other members of the school faculty are intent on getting in his way by dragging him off to participate in miscellaneous after-school club activities.  Will Isshin remain the reluctant member of the club and continue to regret his decision to have joined? Or will he come to love the club, and discover the true purpose of the Light Novel Club?  


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