Ryo Kamina was an Heisei Era Otaku who worked at the sales department of an insurance firm in Chiba prefecture.
He had slowly risen through the ranks in the company but as the Lost Decades dragged on and the last vestiges of Life-Time-Employment dissipated his company had also gone bankrupt ten years ago and now no amount of accounting tricks could hide that.
As a company-man he didn’t have any real skills except his status in the company and so all his hardwork since his student days was all gone.
Despite these setbacks he started to work as a taxi driver to look after his family. It was not that he loved the family which he had neglected to serve his company but rather he couldn’t imagine a life where he was not working, it would be too shameful, even though he didn’t have any face left to lose.
The Ritz Cafe was a cat girl themed maid-cafe in a basement of an old Akiba building. The building also housed K-books, an obscure doujinshi shop visited only by middle-aged and older men who liked the touch of physical goods.
That day Ryo had gone to both of these places to revisit the last embers of his youth, housed within that dilapidated building.
All of the maids at the Ritz cafe except the manager were robots from the Mashiro Corporation, a conglomerate which had also bought out Ryo’s insurance company as well, and replaced its ranks with AI.
The maids’ artificial smiles were too genuine, too perfect, and lacked the facile awkwardness of the flesh and blood waitresses that had served him and the other members of his university “Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture.”
At K-books Ryo perused the aisles and bought an old ero-game titled Kiwame Quest. He recalled that it had been banned soon after it was released many years ago though he couldn’t recall why.
Tokyo was a dead town after 8pm, so it was odd for a group of men to be gathered in the parking lot Ryo normally used.
It wasn’t a large crowd, around thirty men, not looking very clean, the men ranged from ages twenty to forty. There were no women and they stood facing a scrawny little man talking out of a container. The initials “L.I.F.E” were printed on the side of said container.
Ryo realised they were anti-AI campaigners part of a religious group whose motto was “For a Pure & Blue Earth.”
It was cold outside so Ryo didn’t linger outside for too long, besides Ryo wanted to play his newly acquired ero-game.
Ryo’s job as a cab driver was purely manufactured make-believe make-work. It would be possible to design a fully automated cab system but artificial jobs like Ryo’s were created to keep the unemployment figures down and to mend broken egos.
The town in Hokkaido where Ryo had grown up until he went to Tokyo University, had now been claimed back by nature but the organic farms which surrounded his hometown were fully run by machines to safeguard national(Tokyo’s) food security.
Ryo’s wife was out, probably having an affair thought Ryo but Ryo himself didn’t mind since they had already had the government-mandated number of children and he frequently visited virtual reality brothels in Tokyo’s historic red light district.
Ryo’s children were at a boarding school in England thanks to Ryo’s connections from his previous work at the insurance firm. The only other one in his apartment was X-2, an antiquated maidbot which spoke in an Osaka accent.
Ryo ordered X-2 to make him “a succulent Chinese meal and some chicken tendies” as he watched some late night anime in a dark room. He fell asleep while watching a TV show about an AI girlfriend coming out of a CRT television through a VHS tape.
When he woke Ryo was sitting in a chair on the veranda of a small palatial residence on a floating island. The villa, Ryo observed was mostly made of shining metal. When he stood up he soon realised that he had reverted to the body of a boy of about eleven years of age.
He looked at the white fringes of his hair covering his eye and back at the scenery. In the reflection of a window pane he could see that he was wearing a dark coloured suit with a cape with red accents and white lining.
Ryo started exploring the villa, the baths and the bedrooms as such were splendid to behold.
It was in the large bath that Ryo first encountered another soul in this flying palace. It was Gerda, a woman about 190cm tall, in her mid-twenties. She was in the middle of undressing so he could see that her body was covered with so many scars that her white skin looked like patchwork.
The woman noticed Ryo so she hid her scarred body with a towel and beckoned Ryo.
“Prince Ryo, the bath is ready.”
Ryo joined her in the bath. Strangely he didn’t particularly feel aroused perhaps because of his eleven year old body or because of her scars but the woman seemed red-faced.
Just then, Lamia, a red-haired girl with golden-coloured eyees entered the bathroom, and sat next to Ryo. She stared at his eyes. She was also only wearing a towel.
Ryo spaced out wondering what exactly he had gotten himself into.
Finally, Mare (as in “nightmare”), an older black-haired woman of about 30 also showed up. She tied up her skirt, rolled up her sleeves, took off her kneesocks and headed into the bath with a sponge. She was not wearing any underwear but of course, all the steam from the bath was covering up all the appropriate places.
The woman got behind Ryo without getting into the bath and smoothed his hair.
“Ryo-sama, are you worried about your marriage in the bath? Come on, we’ve got to get you clean, okay?”
Ryo turned to look up her and nodded.
“H-hold on!” Lamia, the red-head, shielded Ryo’s eyes but then after a stern look from Gerda, she let go.
Mare looked at Ryo blankly, like it was just a younger brother and older sister taking a bath together, nothing deeper than that.
“What’s wrong, prince?”
Mare smiled happily as she looked at Ryo and Lamia without any duplicity.
“Lamia-chan, you help too. Ryo-sama is meeeting the imperial princess he’ll be marrying, so we’d better get him clean.”
Lamia and Mare washed Ryo while Gerda looked on shyly.
Ryo goes back to his room. He thinks he might have some feelings for Mare.
There is a knock on the door. Gerda speaks through the door without opening it.
“My prince, you’re getting married soon. You’re not taking any of these games with your maids too seriously, are you? Your marriage is very important to our country. Your actions could change the fate of all our people.”
Ryo quietly opened the door.
“Um, but, Marriage should be with someone you love. I’ve never even met the princess and…”
“This country raised you, didn’t it? There are times when you have to sacrifice your pleasure for your country.”
Gerda seemed irritated as she delivered the text-book response.
“First loves seldom bear fruit,” she added looking somewhat distant. “You’ll have many more opportunities to fall in love. You’ll surely love the princess too.”
“Forgive my rudeness, my prince.”
Gerda coldly murmured her apology and left.
A few days passed like so.
“Hurry up and get dressed Prince, we’ll be descending into the Dhoom Empire soon.” Gerda announced.
The day had come.
They arrived at the capital while rushing around to prepare for the welcoming ceremony. They were about to leave the floating villa behind and were invited into the Dhoom Imperial Palace itself.
“I think we might be late.” Lamia said.
“That’s true…” Mare replied.
“That’s because of your incompetence as maids.” Gerda said sternly as she adjusted the large black sword on her back.
“I think we better head down now anyway.” Ryo said.
While that was going on guests start to arrive. Groups of knights and nobles were coming in. After all, the sacrifice from an enemy country was coming to be adopted. They seemed arrogant and prideful. Gerda was apparently sufficiently well-known that they were whispering insults about her aloud.
“Okay, let’s go.” Ryo said not without apprehension.
They were whispering bad things about Ryo and his servants.
“He’s here to be adopted, with women escorting him.”
“There’s one you can’t really call a woman.”
“Oh so that’s the dark sword-woman and the albino prince.”
“Ugh.” Lamia said. “And we just have to take it…”
“Well,” said Mare. “It sounds like none of it has to do with me. They’re only talking about the prince and Gerda-san.”
Gerda drew her long-sword in an instant, and had it raised over one of the loud whispering nobles.
“Excuse me, I thought there was a fly there.”
The nobles immediately turned pale and fell silent. The knights reached for their swords but they were afraid of Gerda.
Gerda returned her sword to her back.
“Forgive me. So, might there be a guide for us?”
Ryo silently clutches Gerda’s skirt.
“With the technology that can construct a flying villa and warriors like Gerda, we could probably win the war…”
“Prince,” began Gerda. “The Empire has dozens of flying fortresses, you shouldn’t underestimate them.”
Just then Gerda noticed that the light they used to descend from the villa was dimmer. When they had descended it, it was solid, like a stone staircase. However, now the light seemed softer, like a slight shift would make it fall.
The imperial nobles were saying that it was because the prince’s kingdom’ was lacking in technology, but… she didn’t actually believe that. Also, it might just be her imagination but it seemed like the villa was losing altitude.
In any case, as Ryo was theoretically a state guest and soon to be a member of the imperial family, he was brought to the throne room with all of the senior lords in attendance.
Suddenly, just as he entered the throne room, Ryo seemed to be in pain. Mare was first to realise this. He felt like he was desperately holding back something that was changing in his body.
And then the imperial palace around them started to slowly crumble and fall apart. The Imperial family, the nobles, and everyone else in the throne room was thrown into panic.
“Prince! What’s wrong?!”
Mare looked dumbfounded as she took Ryo’s hand in hers.
“Prince! Are you alright?”
Panicking, Lamia holds the prince.
“Impossible. The prince’s health was never a problem!”
Gerda desperately tried to remain calm.
Right at that moment Ryo’s vision went blank. He woke up in his dark room with X-2 looking at him with programmed concern while holding a tray with chicken tendies and a Chinese meal on it.
Ryo realised he had fallen asleep with his VR headset on. He remembered that the reason why Kiwame Quest had been banned was because it was too realistic.