The next day I was once again trying to get some writing done in the club room. Just as I got some idea, a notification popped up on the desktop’s grey taskbar and made a chiming sound, the idea I had in my mind vanished. It was an IRC private message notification. Knowing who it would be from, I sighed and clicked the icon to open the chat window.
Asahina: The truth is… I was the one who made the visual novel site. The school’s computer System Administrator plays games all day in his little cubicle-like room while pretending to work, so I was under the impression the school didn’t check what’s on the servers, and made a mistake. For some unknown reason the System Administrator gave the Student Council’s Disciplinary Committee the rights to monitor every student’s data. When I offered to take responsibility and resign from the Computer Club, the Student Council President Takahashi decided to take this up to Okabe-sensei who’s in charge of the school’s Culture clubs. You already know the rest. Whether you want to tell your club about this truth is your choice.
[There was no use in them knowing, especially Yamada and Tanaka, who might refuse to help if the duo knew it was all Asahina’s fault. Although their help was of questionable and negligible value, we couldn’t afford to be picky. Izumi probably wouldn’t care anyway so there was no need to tell her either.]
Ishikawa: No I won’t tell anyone, but there’s something you can do for me: send me the files to your website. If you still have them. I want to see them.
Asahina: But why?
Ishikawa: I am curious. That’s why.
Shortly afterwards, a short boy with large round glasses entered the club room, bowed politely, delivered a CD into my hands and then scurried away like a rabbit. If I recall correctly that meek fellow was the Computer Club’s vice president. I couldn’t remember his name though. Well, not like it matters. A Compact Disc, huh?
Izumi had brought two books today. One of them was a mystery novel and the other was a “Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.”
I somehow doubted she had a secret bee-keeping hobby, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she picked up a cosplay hobby.
Incidentally she was still wearing her frilly maid uniform. Where did she change her clothes anyway? Not in the club room with Yamada and Tanaka. Did she walk around the club building dressed like that?
She wasn’t as well-endowed as Asahina in her chest area but a big-breasted maid would be even more stupid.
If there was any illusion that she was some kind of servant in this club, then that broke apart when I served her tea on a tray.
“Thank you master.”
She said without taking her eyes off her text. If only I was one of those who would enjoy this kind of play.
Yamada and Tanaka were playing Go. I was intermittently distracted by their game. Tanaka had surrounded Yamada with his black stones.
It seems like I was the only one with any sense of urgency about the Computer Club situation. I observed Izumi for hints on how to write a robot maid story, but she was proving useless both as a muse, and as a club leader.
My laptop didn’t have a CD-ROM Drive, so I’d have to use this old desktop tower to view these files, and then maybe move to my pen drive. I pressed the button to open the CD-tray and surprisingly there was already a CD inside. It looked like it was some drivers for USB support. I put it in the now empty CD cover, and inserted the disk I had just gotten. Although there wasn’t any executable file as I had hoped there would be, there was a public_html folder, and in there I double-clicked on the index.html page which opened a Netscape Navigator browser window with some annoying midi music playing in the background. I turned off the music. Many elements on the web page seemed to be broken, either because this site should run off of a live server or because this web browser was too old… I guess it helped that the website had three columns and was clearly made to emulate the style of websites in the 90s.
In the centre column, there was an exquisitely detailed 2D pixel art illustration of a girl with chest-nut-coloured hair wearing motorcycle gear. She stood with one hand on her hip and the other hand relaxed, holding a red motorcycle helmet, the background behind the character sprite was a beautiful beach.
A dialogue box beneath that read:
“Welcome to Iscandar!
This is a web visual novel-based project.
On your right, there is a game list.
All settings will be saved in your browser…”
The instructions, as per usual, went on into unnecessary details… but I ignored that to have a look at the game list. I could not recognise a single game on the list. Well, I guess that’s 90s eroge for you. Only a true visual novel fanatic would bother to know let alone play these titles. When I hovered my cursor on a title, a pop-up would appear with some basic technical info about the title but no details about the story. Most of them seemed to have a sci-fi element although there was some horror and mystery too. There wasn’t a way to sort the games by genre or anything, then again there were only a dozen games. Would it be safe to play one of the games in here? They were on this PC not the school’s computer network, so I guessed it was going to be fine. I turned down the volume just in case there was some unwarranted moaning the moment I started a game.
While I was looking at the list, I noticed that the pixel art had changed from the tall motorcycle girl who suspiciously looked like Asahina, if she wasn’t so petite, to an illustration of two girls, one red-headed and the other blue-haired, both with bobs, wearing green-ish sailor uniforms standing in front of what looked like a school’s roof.
This reminded me that North High, my present educational institution, had closed off access to the roof, under lock and key… Seriously they should have taken into account the cultural context and opened it up to students. Then again if too many students visited the school’s roof then it would be meaningless.
But I shouldn’t loose track of my goal, not only satiating my curiosity, I wanted to see if I could find anything which could help us clear this event, I mean the Computer Club’s, or rather Asahina’s request.
If Izumi accepted this job why should I have to think about this alone? Was she just going to dress as a maid and say she’s done her job?
“Do you need some help master? Give me an order or else I won’t know what to do.”
“Yes, go flip their Go table. I shouldn’t have to suffer this alone.”
“Your wish is my command master.”
Izumi round-house kicked the Go-board sending all the pieces flying, some of them in my direction. Black lace panties. I was too distracted by black lace to avoid a piece straight at my face. Well, it was just a go piece, it didn’t hurt that much anyway. Was this Asahina’s doing too? Anyway at this angle, it seems like I was the only one who’d caught sight of it, so all was well that ended well.
“What the hell Ishikawa, I was about to win!”
“Good job Ishikawa! I am feeling good so let’s call it a draw.”
Such quick and differing reactions. Well, I didn’t expect her to actually do it.
“Don’t thank me yet. We have to decide what we’ll do for the Fanzine.”
“Huh? I thought we had that sorted out already, hadn’t we? I was going to use my camera to take some photos of Izumi’s cosplay. Yamada was going to provide some illustrations, and you were going to write a short story. Case Closed.”
Tanaka’s summary was correct but he was annoying me, especially that remark at the end, we hadn’t even started doing anything! Stop acting like some great detective when you haven’t solved anything but just sent the corpse away to the morgue and said “oh well, he died, it can happen!”
In any case, the Computer Club was going to write articles about the recent scientific progress made in the quest for robot helpers, and to argue for their need for them in a society with falling birth rates, meanwhile the Light Novel Club were tasked with providing the more “light”-aspects to make the magazine sell well. The light-hearted aspects will conflict with the serious aspects, but is that gap-moe?
None of us here were particularly social or popular, so, “I am also worried if the Computer Club expects us to also advertise for this “out of school-fair” club publication. “
“Master Ishikawa, with all due respect you should worry about how to market something after you have a product.”
“Then you should come whack my brain till I get some ideas!”
“Master, as a machine I am not allowed to hurt humans.”
She had fully committed to the role of a maid robot. But I guess sending a Go board flying with a kick was okay. The future of humanity under the machines looks dark. Nothing human will make it out of the near-future.
I looked back at the cathode ray tube screen, framed by a thick bezel of yellowed out plastic, and tuned out of the useless conversation.
“How many pictures of Izumi can we take anyways? If we are going to sell this magazine out, then it can’t be a boring half-assed, serious publication featuring just one maid. We need to take pictures of more maids. But how?” Tanaka opined. “Or alternatively we could think of different ideas of what a cosplay of a robot maid would look like.”
What we couldn’t make up for in quality, we have to make up in quantity, isn’t the side with the bigger numbers that wins in a war? Is that how it works? Lieutenant Yamamoto? But we didn’t conveniently happen to know a bunch of maids or happen to have a cosplay expert in our midst who could whip up a costume in an episode’s montage. This wasn’t a Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture.
Yamada looked back and forth and opened his mouth repeatedly, in a fish-like manner, as if he had something to say to me but then he stopped himself and bit his thumb. It looked like he was hesitating to say something. This conversation was pointless, and I had already decided that I would spend the rest of the day here playing one of these games ported by Asahina, but I turned towards him and asked him to speak up.
“What is it you want to say? If you have something to say, and as long as it’s not to use AI to generate both the articles and images which would make a really boring magazine, then I’d like to hear it.”
No, even if it didn’t make a boring result for the reader I wouldn’t want that… Because it wouldn’t be our Magazine and so it would be boring for us. Well, it was the Computer Club’s magazine anyway.
Yamada placed a hand on his slight double-chin, exhaled deeply, and assumed a serious stance which didn’t match his corpulent image.
“You asked where you could find more maids right, Tanaka-san? I do not normally visit such disreputable 2.5D establishments which besmirch the purity of 2D with disgusting 3D imitations…”
Yamada glanced at Izumi, or rather at Izumi’s cosplay, with disgust. Izumi didn’t seem to mind been looked down upon by some fat otaku.
“But I am aware of a new Maid Café in town. If it’s just for this purpose, and it’s not like I am curious about maid cafes or anything, but if we have to go for club activities then I guess it can’t be helped.”
Another piece of useless information.
Without any coaxing, and after repeatedly insisting that he’d never gone to that place, Yamada revealed the location of the “Moe Delight Maid Café.” They had no website, and there was nothing about it on the internet or on online maps. Thus we were going entirely by Yamada’s word. Was there really a maid cafe in this city? I feel like I would have heard of it by now. Well maybe if they have so little presence then they’ll agree to be featured in some way, in this school magazine which had yet no readers. I felt like we were irrevocably straying away from the task at hand, so I spent the rest of my time playing a random title from Asahina’s Iscandar site.
“In the year 2032, Awalken of Reminiscence RPG is the premier VRMMORPG, and has been so for the last ten years. However the quality of the official game has declined considerably, at least according to MMO junkies like myself. Most players like myself play Awalken on “shards,” or legally-grey private servers run by volunteers.
My name is Ryo Fujiwara and on my eighteenth birthday I inherited my uncle’s maid cafe. When I was not running my maid cafe, I played on a shard of Awalken called Maid Story Online. Now this was a funny one, there was so much custom content that it could be considered its own game separate from Awalken.
「LunaKo: There is a new quest in the game, shall we play it, nii-san?」”
Those were the first lines of the game which was titled “Maid Story Online.” Before I could get to the start menu, it played a short animated clip. I was surprised how good the action animation looked for a game from the 90s. More surprising yet, was that the story was partially voice-acted. On the other hand, it was a very short game, full of exposition because the writer didn’t have any time to waste. I was done playing the game by the day’s end. Was it useful at all for the robot maid magazine story? There were maids and AI-run maids, but that was all in the context of a virtual reality world, so there were no robots.
The next day we closed club early to go to the Moe Delight Maid Café. We went home before meeting up at the train station. The reason for this was to change out of uniforms into casual clothing so as to avoid causing any more trouble than was necessary with the school. Izumi came dressed in her maid uniform so that, in her words, “They’ll see that the Light Novel Club is serious about robot maids.”
It was a pity. I wanted to see her outside of a uniform, in casual clothing.