Chapter 2 (or, "The Force Behind It All")
“Do we have any more luck on the live feed from today’s giveaway?”
“I’ve tried accessing the link several times, but there seems to be something wrong with the connection. I’ve sent information to Noh headquarters, and IT is on it.”
“Good.” Noh Kee Moh Rhiannon crossed her legs and leaned her head on her hands. The room was huge, dark, and without anybody else in it, but this was home for her. The cathode ray screens in front of her threatened to hurt her eyes again, but she had learned long ago to be used to its glow. Ever since the truce between the Three Kingdoms, she hadn’t gotten any sleep. That had only been five short years ago, and since then, sleep had been a memory for the girl who had coded the countries out of their own problems.
Without Digital Merge, she was certain regular citizens wouldn’t have been able to get through the days and weeks that followed the treaty signing. That was why she had created Digital Merge in the first place, to give them something to pay attention to when it seemed the world was falling apart. She had never expected that the little card game she had created would be known the world over, or that it would hold East Asia together in ways peace talks couldn’t. But then again, that was the power of technology.
Rhiannon looked up at the computer screen. Her navigator, Komari, was seated and waiting for her next order. Rhiannon had created navigators as a way for the country’s people to get used to the Internet, giving them a virtual pet to show them around that they could customize at will. Komari was the only human navigator, built specifically to Rhiannon’s specifications and programmed to do far more than any other regular navigator could.
Komari knew everything about the Internet. That was because Rhiannon knew everything about the Internet.
“We’ve finally got the feed in correctly. It will take approximately fifteen minutes for the feed to buffer.”
“Sounds good, Komari. In the meantime, do you have the most recent rankings?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Canberra, Rikimo, and Kouji?”
“Actually, the person in the third spot is new.”
“What?” Rhiannon jumped -- she had been so sure the rankings wouldn’t have changed since yesterday. She almost knocked three different program manuals off the desk, and rearranged them. The name “Noh Kee Moh” glared back at her from each book. “Oh, didn’t the Master Plan All Star tournament end yesterday?”
“Yes, Miss Rhiannon. And the person in third place won by twenty two points.”
“What?!?” Now Rhiannon was really in shock -- people usually won Digital Merge games by small margins. To win by twenty two points meant this person had to be good. She shut her mouth. Her mother always had said gaping was ridiculous. “Can you pull up the list?”
“It’s offline, but yes.” Komari closed her blue eyes and gave a short bow. She was designed in Rhiannon’s favorite colors, blue and black, something not everybody knew about her. She disappeared off screen and then reappeared in her blue and black mimono, carrying a file folder with her. She opened it and then disappeared off screen as the file contents filled up the screen.
Rhiannon’s eyes locked onto the list of top Digital Merge players. This list was set to update every time Rhiannon’s computer connected to the Internet. At twenty MBPS a second, Rhiannon had the fastest Internet connection in Tokyo, but she rarely abused it on videos or games. Everything was business, and Digital Merge especially.
Right at the top of the list was Canberra Longshore, as she figured he would be. Canberra was everything that Digital Merge needed in a top player. He was brave, flamboyant, showy, but also kind, generous to others, always stopping to be a role model or record public service videos for the news. Rhiannon could see Canberra now, standing on the Digital Merge stage, his spirit deck ready to fall in, with a smile on his face and his brown hair spiked sky high. Canberra had tons of fans, especially from his home country. While Digital Merge’s Asian headquarters were in Tokyo, players from far and wide would come, and the Koreans seemed to always cheer for Canberra.
But, then again, if Canberra had tons of fans, so did Yoshida Rikimo. She was the opposite of Canberra in so many ways. While he had all the fire of a champion (even though he didn’t have a fire deck), Rikimo was so cold and calculating that she was often nicknamed the Ice Princess. She dressed all in black and never even said a word during her matches, dark eyes on the field, the only color in her outfit the red hairband she always wore. There were so many differences in between Canberra and Rikimo that Rhiannon had heard calls for years to see the two fall in together and see who would win. The problem was that Rikimo would only attend certain tournaments and seemed to avoid Canberra at all costs, even in interviews.
That had never been the case with Kouji, but Rhiannon had truly been surprised by his usurping. “Komari, who is this Tomoyaki Erika girl?” she asked, reviewing the name now in third place.
Komari’s answer was quick. Rhiannon had assumed she had gotten the information before the feed had been lost. “Fourteen years old, Odaiba, prefers fire deck. From the videos I have, she isn’t entirely quiet, but a great strategist and never speaks when the stakes are high.”
A video popped up on Rhiannon’s cathode ray screen, and she clicked on it. It took two minutes to finish downloading -- Komari must have bookmarked it -- and then it showed a fifteen second clip from an older tournament, probably in the spring. The girl in question was wearing a light blue mimono with purple accents and dark blue pants. Her hair had been dyed red with blue streaks in it, and her eyes had contacts in them -- all popular Japanese fashions, yes. But Rhiannon wasn’t sure how the green and purple baseball cap would fit in until Erika hid her eyes underneath it.
The baseball cap wasn’t for show. It was Erika’s poker face.
When Erika raised her face, she laid down the cards she had to in order to win. There was power in her swing, not unlike Canberra but with much less flash; like Rikimo in her directness but with a smile. And like Canberra, she called out the names of the cards as soon as she had played them, drawing attention to herself and getting the crowd motivated. Rhiannon couldn’t tell how loud they were cheering, as the sound on the video was terrible, but the stands behind her were jam packed with supporters.
The clip ended as soon as it had begun, and Rhiannon sat back in her chair. This was the girl who had won the Master Plan All Star tournament by twenty two points. She hadn’t met her yet, and she didn’t know her like she knew Canberra and Rikimo, but she had a sinking feeling she was going to know Tomoyaki Erika whether she liked it or not.
“Miss Rhiannon. The stream is back online and ready for you.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The screen switched over to the live stream of the giveaway, which had neared its end. The stream was without sound to preserve bandwidth; Kiiroka Jaci was on the Cerulean Tower stage saying something to the crowd, which was rapidly dispersing. On stage were two girls and a boy, all lined up. The first girl looked American, the second girl did as well but had a certain Japanese-ness to her, and the boy was Chinese. Rhiannon could tell just by looking at his facial features. All three of them were wearing mimonos, which mystified Rhiannon. She thought the modified kimonos looked tacky; so why was everybody wearing one?
“The three winners of the lottery are Liana Kouseki from Los Angeles, California, United States; Yamazaki Arashi of Akita Prefecture, and Henry Rakisu from Shanghai.” Rakisu? Maybe he was mixed. “Shall I send invitations to their navigators?”
“Yes, please. And send invitations to Canberra, Rikimo, and Erika as well. Canberra and Rikimo probably know they’re invited, but I doubt Erika does.” Rhiannon leaned on her hand and stared at the screen as Komari disappeared, supposedly to go do the things Rhiannon had requested of her. She sometimes had classical music playing in the background in her office, but there was none of that today. It was too silent in the room.