Chapter 1 (or, “The Storm Arrives”)
“Now departing Ogikubo for Shibuya. Stand clear. The doors are closing.” And with the tone signal, the doors closed and sealed Yamazaki Arashi’s fate.
She settled down on the train, looked out the window as the tunnels rolled by, and tried her best to stay quiet. She had to resist the urge to ask her grandmother a bunch of questions. Why was everything in Tokyo so big? Why were there so many train lines? This wasn’t like Akita, which only had one train line running through it. She was used to taking the bus to and from school every day, but with the monsoon season now over and summer vacation in full swing, she would have to find a way to learn how to use the train system instead.
Especially if she was going to keep traveling to Shibuya. It was, after all, the Digital Merge headquarters. That would take some convincing first, though.
“Baa-chan,” she asked, referring to her grandmother. “How long is the trip again?”
“Longer than you think,” she said, her eyes closed. “Patience is a virtue, young one.”
Arashi looked down at her tablet. Pegacat, her navigator, was asleep, the time displaying in the upper right hand corner. 10:04 -- and the drawing would take place at 14:00. She hoped she had enough time. She would ask Pegacat, but her grandmother was a stickler for tradition and didn’t like seeing the device around.
Arashi looked out the windows again and played with her long braids. She had never met her grandmother before and had been worried that she would have been critical about her hair and eye color. She was half American like her twin brother, who still lived in Colorado. She hadn’t seen Jeremy in years, not since she had adopted Arashi as her new name. Her birth certificate still read Storm Yamazaki, but nobody in Japan would understand that.
At least she still had Japanese facial features. But it didn’t stop everybody from staring at her dirty blonde hair and oddly blue eyes. Looking out the window, she could see her own reflection, hair up and out of her face, her turquoise mimono spotless. Her grandmother had nearly complained about that as well -- she was dressed in a full kimono and didn’t understand why Arashi insisted on wearing the much shorter variety with pants and Western shoes.
She just hoped she could get to Shibuya in time for the lottery. Maybe then people would stare at her for a different reason.
The train went from Ogikubo to Akasaka, where Arashi and her grandmother transferred to the Shibuya line. It was another four stops or so to Shibuya proper. When Arashi and her grandmother got off the train, it was so busy that Arashi had to stay close. People of every shape and size were here, dressed in more than the traditional tunics or kimono, sometimes even in Western clothes. There were girls in long, frilly black and white dresses, and a group of girls with bleached hair and matching pink mimonos. Arashi saw someone walk by with blue hair and, somehow, felt more at home in this chaos.
She had waited all day, and she was finally here.
“There is still an hour left until your function,” Arashi’s grandmother said as they finally got to street level. The huge shopping malls blocked the sky from view, and Arashi couldn’t stop staring. “When would you like to get there?”
“Now, if that is okay,” Arashi said. She had submitted her lottery application three weeks ago, and if she wasn’t in the crowd and they called her number, she wouldn’t be picked. She reached into her bag and made sure her ticket was still secure, and it was, sitting next to Pegacat. It surprised her that they still did paper tickets for things in Tokyo.
She looked up at Shibuya, at the bright lights and the plastic balloons and the lines on the ground telling people where to walk, and wondered how people really lived here. There was so much color and technology. People were even plugging their tablets into nearby cafe tables and bike stands to get updates, instead of only doing it at their home computers. She wished she could get away for a moment and plug Pegacat in, but she was certain her grandmother wouldn’t let her.
They walked together, following the lines to the Cerulean Tower, where the lottery would take place. It took a while to get there, and Arashi couldn’t stop staring the entire way. She saw small shops with huge, colorful displays and kids playing on the sidewalk. There were advertisements everywhere, for the being-built Tokyo Sky Metro and High Touch and Zapatos sneakers.
Finally, they rounded the corner and found their way to the Cerulean Tower. The building was huge, a skyscraper decked out in rainbow colors, and with a sizeable crowd surrounding it already. Arashi and her mother joined the crowd at the back, eyes on the huge stage and screen that was set up there.
A message was displayed on the screen: “Digital Merge Promotional Lottery Featuring Kiiroka Jaci!”
Arashi wasn’t the biggest fan of Kiiiroka Jaci -- she didn’t like all of her fashion videos, but her songs were cute and about everyday life, so she liked those. Jaci was much more than just a pop culture star, though -- she was a real life newscaster and did the top news stories in Tokyo every night. Arashi got the updates on Pegacat, just like everybody else in Tokyo did.
Jaci was also an avid fan of Digital Merge, though she had never gone pro or mentioned anything about a deck. She did sometimes talk about the game on her tablet shows, though.
After a few more minutes passed, the screen went dark, and the crowd cheered. Arashi couldn’t see everything -- she was too short to see all of it -- but soon, the music started up on the loudspeakers, and she recognized it as “PuPuPu,” Jaci’s most well known song. And there Jaci was, on the screen that mimicked her movements as she danced for the crowd, dressed in a rainbow mimono with sparkles and glitter, her long blonde hair blowing in the wind.
Arashi knew Jaci’s hair was fake -- dyed, probably -- but it did make her feel better to be standing here and watching.
“Thank you, every one of you!” Jaci said at the end of the song. She gave the crowd a bow and gave another smile. “Now, for the real reason we are here!”
The screen behind Jaci changed to show a young woman, Asian but not Japanese in heritage, wearing a green hanbok Korean dress. Her eyes smiled brightly even though she herself did not smile.
“You know the story of how, long ago, the countries of Asia were not united. There were wars and famines and struggle and differing beliefs. Before long, we had to come together, and we needed a symbol of how we could live together in peace. There was a war hero who fought for our peace and harmony, a girl who recoded our future and made it a better reality. Today we celebrate Noh Kee Moh Rhiannon’s contributions with the game she created, Digital Merge!
“As you all know, Rhiannon will be hosting a special Digital Merge seminar from the Cerulean Tower Green Room two days from now. This seminar will be presenting the newest expansion in the Digital Merge game. The best players of Digital Merge will be there, and today, we’re drawing three tickets for fans of the game to go and sit in! Are you ready?”
The sound of the crowd was deafening. Arashi had to close her eyes, it was so loud.
“First up!” Jaci took her tablet from her pocket and pushed a few buttons on it. “Number 940-232! Come on up here!”
There were some childish screams, and then a girl with long dyed blonde hair was pushed up to the stage. She looked a lot like Jaci, tall and tan with green eyes instead of blue and a long purple mimono. Surprisingly, she also didn’t look very Japanese...
“What’s your name?” Jaci asked as she gave the other girl a microphone.
The girl smiled. “My name is Liana Kouseki, and I came here all the way from Los Angeles to participate in this drawing today! I’ve been a huge fan of the game for years and have finally traveled to Tokyo to play it. This is a dream come true!”
There was lots of cheering in the crowd. Arashi had never seen an American girl up close like this before. Didn’t people from America usually stay away from East Asia?
“The second person in our drawing is…” And Arashi held her breath. There was no way her number would be called. Things like this didn’t happen to her --
And Arashi knew it was true. Because she had memorized that number. At the moment, she no longer cared that her grandmother was right there, watching her. She jumped up in the air and raised her fist. “YES!!!”