In a run-down district of a certain city in a certain country on Earth, there was an old high-rise building built since the beginning of the 21st century. Its basement housed a store selling personal defense equipment. Jim, the owner, looked at the creaking door and the new customer coming in. He slightly raised an eyebrow.
The customer stayed silent. So did he.
Among the faint sound of jazz music, they looked around the shop in apparent curiosity.
A strange customer, they were. The parka was oversized on their frame, with the hood pulled low to hide their face. They had on a pair of similarly baggy army pants and boots that looked to be clothes for a grown man.
It wasn’t the body size of an adult. They looked more like a boy… or perhaps actually still just a kid. In this country, people entering stores like Jim’s with that sort of suspicious look were, nine times out of ten, burglars.
Jim couldn’t relax, even if they were a kid. In this country, where guns were relatively easier to acquire compared to other first world countries, children could kill adults just by a pull of a finger. No one could have fault Jim for reaching for his gun just because a customer looked suspicious.
Yet even as he touched the gun hidden behind the counter, he didn’t take it into his hand. He couldn’t.
He was assaulted by a feeling of severe uneasiness and dissonance. The customer looked thin, their height only a bit over five feet. They looked like nothing more than just a kid. But the strange unease was telling Jim that the moment he held up the gun would be the moment he took his last breath.
“So I heard this place take trade-ins, right?”
“…where did you hear it from?”
Only when the customer first talked to him did he realize that she wasn’t a boy, nor a child. And she wasn’t even an adult woman — judging from how thin she looked, she was still just a teenage girl.
“On the internet.”
The girl waved her phone in front of him as her reply.
Jim hadn’t written anything about trade-ins on his shop’s homepage. Since she didn’t say ‘website’ but only ‘internet’, then she must have found somebody’s tweet and identified this shop and its location. Concluding that she wasn’t a normal customer, Jim lightly leaned on the counter and began to do business.
“What’re you offering?”
The girl placed the goods on the counter. Seeing them, Jim asked, “Can I take a look?”
“Go ahead,” she nodded.
“…the newest model used by the military, I see. Already broken in at that. No outside defect. I heard these are only just beginning to be issued? It should be too early for it to start showing up on black markets… where’d you get it from?”
It was the newest handgun model, made by a conglomerate in the arms and munitions industry. The girl was offering two of them. They couldn’t have been acquired through any official pathway. Jim attempted a bit of intimidation, but there wasn’t a single twitch on the girl’s face behind the hood.
In this country, Jim’s shop was only one among the numerous stores secretly doing trade-ins behind the counter. There was a yearly cycle of several of such shops being exposed and then revived in some other underground locations. It was the reason why the police had stopped bothering with them, and were generally content to leave them be unless something significant happened.
Jim was an ex-policeman. Once in a while, his old co-worker would appropriate some of the guns they’d confiscated to sell to him, which was why Jim’s shop had been able to survive here for over a decade.
The girl showed no signs of being affected by Jim’s intimidation. He felt a strange chill seeing the strands of white hair faintly swaying behind her hood. They reminded him of silver threads.
“You’re not buying then?”
“…do you have the authentication?”
“Here. Not mine, though.”
The girl took out another phone in addition to the previous one and laid them on the counter.
Guns in the modern age required authentication upon use, in order to deny enemies the use of own’s own weapons.
The army, the police, or similar organizations generally used scrip certificates or such items as authentication, but keeping in mind future changes or additions to the info, mobile phones were instead the mainstream type of authentication for individuals or security companies.
The phones she had must have been taken from their owner. An individual or an organization.
The guns could be unlocked just with these devices, but there was a chance information about the location of future firearm use would be leaked to the organization who used to own them. Jim would need to transfer user authentication first.
“…alright. Six hundred bucks for each.”
“Isn’t that too cheap? I got you your authentication too.”
“That’s the kind of business we’re doing here. If you have complaints, go sell them to those shops in the front. Seven hundred each.”
“Fine. Do you have prepaid phones? Just count them into the bill. Also, any melee weapons? A knife would be fine.”
“…just wait there.”
He took one of the prepaid phones lining up in the shop and connected it to the store’s device, then went into the back and took out a slightly dusty wooden box.
Today, almost no one used coins or paper money anymore. In cities of first world countries, you needed a mobile device or your ID card to make payments. It was no inconvenience to normal people with a citizenship and a bank account, but not criminals or illegal immigrants, which was why there was still quite a bit of demand for prepaid mobile phones.
Batons and stun guns were among the goods being publicly displayed in Jim’s store, but not deadlier weapons such as knives. The girl slightly winced at the dust covering the box. She took out the combat knife, somewhat on the larger side, then nimbly gave it a few test swings.
The knife was black market goods appropriated from military supplies. It was supposed to be used by soldiers nearly 2 meters in height. In the girl’s hand, it looked more like a machete. Its grip almost looked like it wouldn’t fit, yet the girl was handling it with surprising proficiency. Jim couldn’t help but sigh in admiration.
“I had no choice. This is nice. This and this too, please.”
The girl put on the counter the large combat knife, one survival knife, and ten cheap foldable knives.
“You don’t want guns? I have some old models that don’t require authentication.”
Times changed, but weapons stayed largely the same. Even now, handguns were still using gunpowder and firing .380 or 9mm bullets.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to use them before,” the girl blandly said.
Jim gave a light shrug. He wasn’t looking at the girl as a kid anymore. He was treating her as one of those people.
“Two hundred bucks for everything.”
“Still expensive… at that price, throw in a freebie for me.”
“…wait there.” Jim readily agreed, apparently having thoughts of his own. He went into the back and took out something that looked similar to a straight sword.
“This baby’s been used by the Asian mafia… apparently. You can handle it, right?”
The girl stayed silent, taking out the sword from its black-lacquered cylindrical sheath. She stared at the single-edged blade. It looked to be quite the antique.
“…nice sword. Already drank the lives of more than a hundred.” The girl blithely said. Jim stayed silent, feeling the honesty behind her words.
She returned it to its sheath and took it. Looked like she accepted the freebie. Jim took the money, depositing the change into her prepaid phone and handed everything over.
The girl took the package and they… disappeared. Where did she hide them? Inside those baggy clothes? He supposed it wasn’t exactly impossible considering the glimpses he’d seen of her hidden depths.
She met his eyes and gave a slight nod, then turned away. As Jim watched her getting ready to leave, staying silent all the while, the entrance door suddenly slammed open.
“Hah, hahhaha! GIMME THE GUUUUNS!”
“Tsk!” Jim reached his hand for the gun behind the counter. Unfocused, cloudy eyes. The intruder was probably a drug addict.
This sort of people was honestly worse than the typical burglars. They weren’t scared of guns, nor would they ever do the logical thing and retreat. Not just that, they might not even realize they’d gotten shot, even continuing to rampage for a while. The druggy only had a kitchen knife in hand, but it was plenty lethal with modern metallurgy.
Jim aimed his handgun with both hands. And then, he saw the girl calmly walked forward.
“No, you stup-RUN!”
She blurred. The single-edged straight sword was out of its sheath. The druggy suddenly looked pained, collapsed into a heap, and gradually stopped moving. The girl casually walked past the body without a second glance and left the store.
The heap on the floor was certainly dead, yet Jim couldn’t find a single outside wound that would correlate with the expected cut. On a later day, according to an underground professional corpse remover, the druggy’s lungs had been slashed to bits by a sharp object, and the cause of death had been drowning in his own blood. On a hunch, Jim checked the security camera.
No girl ever entered his shop.
“I actually managed to go shopping…” I left the shop with a sigh of relief.
Ever since I left my home, I’d always been either in the hospital or the facility. I hadn’t had the pocket money to buy something ever. I only knew you could trade money for goods from the VR device of the library.
In Yggdrasia I just needed to hand over coins. I’d never done digital transactions before, so I was a bit nervous. [Cyber-Manipulation] should probably be able to handle my money problem if I knew how to use it that way, but since I didn’t, I had no intention to be reckless.
I continued altering the city’s security camera footage as I went along to my next destination, a second-hand clothing store. I changed into something that would fit me better and snuck into the city.
Blobsy and Panda weren’t here, so my rabbit ears were showing again…
So I’d managed to manifest myself on Earth, but there was no longer anything important at that sealed facility.
There were several other facilities of the corporation in this country, but indiscriminately attacking them all would be too inefficient. It’d just unnecessarily set them on high alert. Wouldn’t be funny at all if they started bringing out some more weird weapons.
The information I got from [Cyber-Manipulation] had mentioned three names: the 7th research center, the 4th research center, and the 12th research center. One of them should be what I was looking for.
I pulled the hood of the coat I’d just bought lower to cover my eyes. I slipped through the ticket gate with my smartphone and got on the gloomy subway, empty but for only a few other people.