A Simple Survey:Volume1 End3
“You had a similar result to me,” said Kozue in her clear voice.
“But it was just ranking them according to how good they were. Wouldn’t everyone get pretty much the same thing?”
“No, you were completely different from me,” said Harumi.
“And from me,” said Hotaru.
(Is that how it works?)
Anzai left the auditorium with the girls and headed for the coffee shop. He had somehow ended up going with them, but he had no idea why.
The building with the coffee shop was a fair distance from the auditorium. The path there was almost pitch black, but Kozue started to rummage around in her handbag.
“Kozue, what are you doing?”
“I think I forgot my ballpoint pen in the auditorium.”
“Those cost 100 yen. You can buy a new one at the convenience store.”
“I do not care if I forgot it, but I want to make sure that I did indeed forget it. I would feel like I had lost if I bought one I did not need.”
“Your pen case does seem to keep getting more and more mechanical pencils.”
Hotaru used the backlight of her cell phone to light up Kozue’s handbag, but it did not provide enough light. Digging around in the bag when it was so dark would only cause more of the bag’s contents to fall out.
“How about you check once we arrive at the coffee shop?” suggested Harumi, but Anzai pointed in a different direction.
“There’s a bulletin board over there.”
The old board was used to post notifications about different clubs. A fluorescent light was installed so it could be read at night. The pure white light did not completely eliminate the darkness in the area, but it was better than a cell phone backlight.
When they approached the bulletin board, a lot of small dead bugs could be seen in the light. It must not have been cleaned very often. It was neither time for new members to join the clubs nor time for the cultural festival, so the information posted lacked a certain shine.
“Oh, I do have the pen.”
“Now you don’t have to get another new one.”
“So you worried us for nothing,” said Aisu lightly. “Y’know, I cannot believe bulletin boards like this still exist. This is the 21st century. It would be a lot easier to just send out an email to everyone.”
“Some stubborn professors might not like those electronic methods.”
“Or maybe some people have more sense than to give out their email address just to receive a ton of pointless bulletins.”
“I see. So that stubbornness goes beyond just the professors.”
Anzai did not particularly care, so he was hoping they could just get to the coffee shop. The nights were getting colder, but there were still plenty of bugs around. They were all flying around near the light and he was finding it quite annoying.
“Hotaru-san. Let’s go,” said Harumi as she turned back towards the bulletin board just after they started to leave.
Anzai turned back too and found Hotaru still standing in front of the bulletin board.
“Did you find something interesting?”
“Hotaru is a romanticist.”
With some things, those four girls seemed to have a shared understanding of their own, so Anzai was sometimes unable to comprehend what they were talking about.
Hotaru soon joined the rest of them and they headed for the coffee shop. Similar to the family restaurant and the convenience store, it was in a building not used for classrooms. However…
“Yes, it is.”
“Hotaru, what time is it?”
“8:30. …It looks like we used up too much time dealing with Kozue’s pen.”
It was a worldwide chain, so it did have standard hours, but the manager had a habit of closing up shop if he found a chance. No lights were on in the coffee shop.
Anzai and the others had no choice but to head to the Spanish cuisine family restaurant in the same building.
“People’s opinions vary a lot about this place depending on whether they like seafood or not.”
From the look on Kozue’s face, it seemed her opinion of the place was on the negative end of things.
However, something else drew Anzai’s attention even more.
“Wait, why are you squeezing in so tight…?”
“They only have tables for 4, so we have no choice.”
“Oh, but I think it is no coincidence that you are pressed against the window with Kozue in the position right next to you. It seems Kozue is trying to monopolize you.”
“That is not true.”
None of them were particularly hungry, so they shared a large salad between the five of them. Naturally, it was covered in shrimp, squid, and shellfish. The displeased look on Kozue’s face escalated.
The cabaret club girl named Aisu sipped at some hot coffee and said, “I guess you aren’t going to get much better than this when the drinks are self-service.”
“Any kind of black coffee just tastes bitter to me,” said Harumi.
“I guess they don’t have any national drinks like matcha. The food is more national, though,” said Hotaru.
“That is just how family restaurants are,” commented Kozue.
Anzai wondered why people were always so harsh in their judgments of national chains. Of course, the coffee shop they had wanted to go to had shops in 30 countries.
Perhaps brands had a way of affecting people’s tastes.
“Anyway, that was a very strange survey.”
“What was it all about, anyway? Was it just something that professor was doing for fun?”
Anzai doubted he could give out credits if it was just for fun.
On the other hand, he could not see any practical use for it either.
“Perhaps he was trying to get some data he needed for his research.”
“But wouldn’t he have to get our permission to use us in a paper?”
“He might be able to get around that if he uses the information in a way that makes it impossible to tell who the person is.”
“Well, I do not really see how it could hurt to let him know which short films we liked,” said Aisu offhandedly while she sipped at her cheap coffee.
Despite her complaints about the family restaurant, she did not seem to be in a particularly bad mood.
Anzai then asked something he was curious about.
“By the way, what field is that professor from? Psychology?”
A strange silence fell over them. They all exchanged glances. Anzai was able to guess what it meant just from seeing their expressions. However, he still could not believe it.
“Wait a second. …None of you has had a lecture from him?
“So you do not know who he is either?”
That word of Kozue’s gave certainty to the thought in Anzai’s mind. Anzai was surprised that no one knew the professor, but he also realized that he did not know those girls either. He doubted they were in the same course of study as him. A professor from his own field might be able to give credits, but would a single professor be able to give credits to students from different fields across the university?
“What about the other people?” asked Harumi. “I think there were about 30 of them.”
“I have nothing to back this up,” replied Kozue clearly. “But I get the feeling that we would get no real information even if we tracked down the other participants and asked them.”
“Like any university, ours has plenty of eccentric professors. It’s possible this was just some old man who toes the line between being an idiot and a genius charging off in some strange direction.”
“If so, what does that mean for my credits?”
If that event had been run by some crazy (but perhaps capable since he still had his job) old man, then those credits could never pan out. It was possible that professor had never discussed it with those in charge of Anzai’s major.
“Well, we may not know what that old man was after, but why were we chosen?”
“He sort of explained that at the beginning. He was probably targeting students who needed credits, those with attendance issues, or those with behavioral issues.”
“Do you think he might have had another reason?”
“How should I know? We have no idea what the point of the survey was, so if who he selected is related to that, we have no way of figuring it out.”
However, even if it had all been some capable but crazy old man having some fun, it changed nothing. The survey was over. If nothing more would happen and they had lost nothing from it, there was no reason to look into it further.
The only problem Anzai cared about was what was to become of his credits.
Or so he thought…
Strange things did happen.
But the problem was that while those strange things would often happen, they rarely came to the people who wished for them.
The only thought on Anzai’s mind was “Why me?”
But since such things had come to him, nothing could be done about it.
He simply had to deal with those strange things.
“I saw something alarming.”
Anzai was eating in the university cafeteria. Unlike the family restaurant or coffee shop, the cafeteria was directly attached to one of the university buildings. As one would expect given that most of the students used the more distant coffee shop and such, the cafeteria food was not very good.
Anzai was putting up with the poor flavor to save some money when Kozue suddenly placed a bowl of tanuki udon on the table and spoke to him. It seemed the other three were not with her.
He picked up some mysterious pasta with chopsticks, brought it to his mouth, and frowned. He then raised his head once more. It really did seem Kozue was speaking to him.
“I saw something alarming.”
“Did you see a professor sleeping with one of the women in the university office?” he replied.
“It goes beyond that. It was…um…hm…How should I put it? At any rate, it goes beyond that. I am sure it goes well beyond the bounds of your imagination. However, that is not your fault. It is not your imagination that is the problem. It is how extreme a phenomenon this was. To be blunt, I do not think I can accurately explain it in words.”
(If you can’t explain it in words, why have you been trying to do just that?)
As he thought, Anzai filled his mouth with pasta that was orange but had a flavor you would never get from a ketchup-type sauce.
“What did you see?”
“I just told you that I cannot explain it. Or rather, I could put it in words, but it would sound too clichéd to get across the essence of what it was.”
“Was it a crime? An object? A phenomenon? A person?”
Not even Anzai was sure what basis those categories came from. However, it seemed to help Kozue. Rather than saying what it was, she could use the process of elimination by saying what it was not.
“It was not a crime. At the very least, I do not think there was anything illegal about it.”
“Then was it a scandal involving someone famous or a surprising phenomenon like a dog standing up on two legs?”
“Oh!! That is exactly it. If I had to choose one of those, it was a surprising phenomenon!!”
“…Why did you say that is ‘exactly it’ if you also have to qualify that you are only choosing that ‘if you have to choose one’? That just gives me a sense of chaos.”
“A dog standing on two legs would not be a problem. Something normal doing something abnormal is merely surprising. But what do you call it when something abnormal does something abnormal?”
“You’re getting a little too poetic. My understanding can’t keep up.”
“Yes. Yes, that is right. But it is not your fault. To repeat myself, it is simply that what I saw was too absurd. There is nothing wrong with your imagination.”
She was denying it, but Anzai still had a feeling she was blaming him. Also, his lunch break did not last forever, so he had to ignore the taste and finish off his meal for the nutrition and feeling of fullness.
Since he wanted to focus on his food, he tried to get a quick answer out of Kozue.
“So what exactly was it?”
“I do not know.”
“Can’t you at least give me a hint? I can’t get anywhere without a starting point.”
“But I am not sure I can express it in words.”
“How about you start by working to sum it up in 1000 words?”
“How many pages of manuscript paper is that?”
“Two and a half.”
“Two and a half, hm?”
“But I don’t think anyone actually writes manuscripts using that anymore.”
“This is not a book report, so I cannot explain it in that many words.”
“Okay, what about 100 words?”
“That is less.”
“Go all out and do it in 50 words.”
“And that is even less.”
“I saw a fairy over there. How many was that?”
Before Anzai could utter his surprise out loud, Kozue seemed to sense it from his expression.
Unlike a UFO nut, she seemed perfectly aware that she was saying something that went against common knowledge. Kozue’s face was beet red, but her tone of voice when she spoke next made it sound like she wanted any objections to be directed to the fairy she had seen.
“I-I saw it, so it cannot be helped! I was not trying to see that!! And yet it rudely crossed by before me, so it truly cannot be helped!! In fact, why did I have to see something like that!?”
“You finally said it, you monster!! You came at me straight on while I was trying to create a defensive line of words!!”
“But…a fairy? Ehh?”
“I took a picture with my phone.”
“That I’d like to see.”
However, the picture visible on Kozue’s cell phone was so out of focus it was impossible to even make out the background to tell where the photo had been taken. If Anzai had been told the photo was meant for a Rorschach test, he would have believed it.
“Now I know just how much it hurts to hesitate in shock and then have someone deny it happened! But it cannot be helped. It only happened for an instant. I feel I reacted quite quickly in order to immediately pull out my cell phone, change it to camera mode, and press the shutter button in that time.”
But what was this fairy she was talking about?
What exactly did it look like?
“It was about – here we go – this tall. About as tall as these chopsticks.”
“I see, I see.”
“It was a girl…I think. Due to the size difference, I am not sure our standards apply, but its face looked like that of a 10 year old.”
“It was wearing green clothes.”
“It did not have dragonfly-like wings, but it was definitely a fairy. It just gave that impression. If you showed it to 100 people, all of them would call it a fairy.”
Kozue broke apart the chopsticks, grabbed a green onion from her hot tanuki udon, and threw it at Anzai’s sleeping forehead.
“You shouted buruma amid all that, didn’t you?”
But no matter what one said, people in the 21st century simply would not believe that someone had seen a fairy. The time for that had passed. It was the same as how spirit photographs had faded away once easily-edited digital photos rose in popularity. It was the same as how people had no problem openly discussing the Kuchisake-Onna with people. It just seemed wrong to get too caught up in that kind of thing. It all seemed so old and passed its expiration date.
For those reasons, Anzai Kyousuke’s belief in what Kozue was saying was at 0%.
With 100% as the max, it was at 0%.
That is quite important, so remember it.
For now, it was at 0%.
He had that thought right after his afternoon class when he was thinking of heading to the supermarket to get a bento for dinner.
He owned a cell phone, but he did not have a smartphone. He had won a small mobile computer (that was about the size of a makeup pouch) at a drawing in the shopping district, so he had no need for another small device with which to access the internet.
The background wallpaper was set to a picture taken over summer break when he and a few others from his apartment complex had helped out some kids with a project. If he recalled correctly, it had been a water rocket for their middle school. As expected, everyone involved had ended up soaking wet. One of the people who had helped out, a white-haired girl of about 12 had only moved in recently. He still had some contact with her over the phone, but he could never seem to contact her from his end for some reason.
Suddenly, a small red popup appeared in the bottom left side of the small screen.
It said the following:
Malicious code “Int.worm/Gold_Stealer” detected.
Resolving the situation.
Click the report for details.
That in and of itself was not too strange. Actually getting infected by a computer virus was one thing, but anyone who had almost constant access to the internet was familiar with having one blocked.
The problem was the name.
Just as Anzai was feeling a bit uneasy, Kozue (who had approached him at some point) whispered in his ear.
“…What a familiar name.”
“What a familiar name. Gold Stealer. …Wasn’t that part of that professor’s survey? I believe it was in a story about a computer virus that looked like a kunoichi.”
“…Wait, do you even have a class in this building?”
“That is a trivial issue,” she said smoothly before pointing at the bottom left of the screen with her slender finger. “This is the bigger issue. What is that? I see a fairy and you get a computer virus…”
“No, wait. There’s no connection there…wait, is there?”
Anzai recalled that there had also been a small fairy dressed in green clothes in one of the short films from that professor’s survey. The story had been about creating a casket bed.
“But a fairy is like a ghost or a UFO. This is just a virus. In fact, the professor might have based that short film on a virus that actually exists.”
“I just did a search on my phone, but I could not find a single example of a virus called Gold Stealer. It keeps assuming I misspelled it and giving me other names to search for. It is pissing me off.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Anzai frowned. “There’s no official name for viruses anyway, right? That might just be what the security company calls it. Since the software detected it and is calling it Gold Stealer, the security company must call it that.”
“But I cannot find anything no matter how much I search.”
Anzai brought up the security software’s official site on his mobile computer and entered the virus name in the search box.
But it came up with 0 results.
“…Then what was that popup?”
“Yes, I wonder. Hee hee. It does not have quite the impact of the fairy I saw, but you could still call this an unexplainable absurd phenomenon. Hee hee.”
“Why are you looking so triumphant?”
“I-I am not looking triumphant!!”
“How suspicious. Did you send this to me to get me wrapped up in all this?”
“A ridiculous accusation! Are you using me as a scapegoat to keep your thoughts in the realm of the realistic!?”
“If you added it to the malware list in my security software, it would show a popup saying it had detected the Gold Stealer. That is much more realistic than thinking a virus that is like an AI out of a manga actually exists. And you are the only one who would benefit from this.”
“Nonsense! Utter nonsense!! Also, I find that super hacker-like ability you are suggesting to be much more absurd than a fairy!!”
Kozue continued to protest, but Anzai did not care. He put the mobile computer back in his bag and headed for the supermarket to buy a cheap meal.
However, the next oddity occurred as soon as he left the evening lecture hall and entered the hallway.
He saw arrows.
Colorful arrows stretched across the different routes through the hallway.
“…These were in the short films, too.”
“I think the arrows display the genre of your destiny. Like love comedy or horror.”
However, he refused to accept it.
(Wait, didn’t the story say you needed some kind of implant installed in your brain to see these!? That’s scary! I’ll never accept this is true!!)
Anzai’s brain denied it with all its might. It was similar to the thought pattern that led to late detection of cancer. His fear was getting in the way.
“I was asking how you were going to explain this absurd phenomenon.”
“S-someone painted them on as a prank. Look, it’s so obvious on that red arrow.”
“That arrow looks black to me.”
“Then you must be crazy.”
“That I cannot accept! Do not lower your estimation of me to explain this realistically!!”
“I don’t believe in it, so this doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter which arrow I follow. It’s just a coincidence if I happen to follow the pink love comedy arrow!!” shouted Anzai as he ran full speed down the hallway.
But the next oddity was waiting for him not even 15 seconds later.
Rounded, goat-like horns.
Thin, bat-like wings.
A pointed, arrow-like tail.
A little girl with all those things and wearing a leather outfit cut across the hallway.
“Wh-what the heeeeeeeeeeeellllllllllllllllllllllllll!!!???”
He had seen her before.
She had been in the short film about the hero and the demon king.
But because of what that would mean, the logical part of Anzai’s mind rejected it completely.
This was not a computer virus or a brain implant. It was pure fantasy. A different sort of feeling of rejection assaulted him.
“What now?” asked Kozue. At some point, she had become the questioner. “How will you describe the absurd phenomenon you see before your very eyes?”
“A theatre club?”
“I see you are keeping things nice and safe. But how did they make the wings move so much like a real living creature’s?”
“Ehh? W-was it really all that realistic? I thought it looked like styrofoam…heh…eh heh heh…”
“Now you are altering your memories because there is no footage to prove you wrong!?”
After that, they ran across a carnivorous plant so large it could likely swallow a human whole, a kunoichi with SF technology, a jealous Japanese goddess, a stubborn sushi chef, and other absurdities. However, Anzai would not accept them. He refused to accept them. With that desperate mindset, Anzai found a way to realistically explain away each and every one of them. He was afraid of accepting even one of them because he felt he would be dragged into some fantastical alternate world if he did.
In exasperation, Kozue said, “I think it is unfair to explain any of them away with ‘special makeup’. You have used that explanation for most of them.”
“If only it was video footage, then I could claim it was CG. Seeing it in person is a pain in the ass.”
“You may be able to get by each individual one like this, but can you explain how it all fits together. Why would the theatre club be dressed up in special makeup and acting en masse to trick you?”
“If you cannot explain that, then your theories lose some credibility. Hee hee. And then you will have to believe me about the fairy I saw. Hee hee.”
“M-maybe this is all part of that professor’s plan and this is part of a continuing psychological experiment centered around that survey.”
“Or maybe this kind of thing happens frequently around the professor, so he made short films based on them to look for any mental changes in the viewers or to see how well they could withstand-…Ah!?”
“I see. Hee hee.”
“No! That doesn’t deny the premise!! These absurdities don’t exist! They just don’t!! Basing the short films on something that doesn’t exist doesn’t explain this! The easiest explanation would be to say you’re behind all of it, Kozue!!”
“Would you please stop placing me in the villain’s role whenever you run out of ideas!?”
Anzai forced himself to focus on the realistic goal of a supermarket bento, so he had no choice but to deny all of those psychedelic digressions. He had a feeling the fact that he “had no choice” but to deny it meant he was cornered, but he did not want to face it all head on.
If he did, he had a feeling his brain would be overcome by eccentric thought patterns like “The neighborhood cat has been a bit unfriendly of late → Is it related to the sinking of the lost continent of Mu!? →Japan is in danger of sinking!!”
That was why he had to deny it all.
He could feel something crumbling at the edges of his explanations, but he still had to deny it all.
He was pretty sure that demon king’s wings were not made of styrofoam, but he had to deny it all.
Anzai (and Kozue who was following him for some reason) finally made it outside the school building. However…
Anzai felt a great blast of air.
However, it was not the wind blowing. It was the flow of air created by a giant object moving. Anzai felt the same feeling on his cheek as when a subway train approached the station.
It was caused by…
What Anzai saw walking between the buildings beyond the campus was…
“How do you explain that?”
“…It only appeared for an instant.”
“How do you deny that?”
“It appeared for an instant in the story involving a magical girl and heroes wearing tights! It’s hard to tell what this is!! It would have been easier if it had simply been the magical girl!!”
“That certainly looks like a giant combining robot to me. I can think of no other way to describe it.”
The robot looked their way with the sound of whirring motors.
It looked as if it would soon head for the university campus.
He had to explain it.
Any explanation would do. Special makeup, a mass of cardboard boxes, or maybe a new weapon from the JSDF. He just had to come up with any reason at all that he was mistaken in thinking what he saw was (something like) a giant robot 20 meters tall walking his way.
“I do not see how you can explain this.”
“No, I can do it!! In a way, I want to deny giant robots more than fairies!! If it’s real, there are endless questions about its design like why something that big would be walking on two legs, so denying it has to be simpler!!”
“I still do not see how you can do so. I am going to run away, but I will tell you the quickest method of denying it.”
“What is it?”
“Let it step on you. If it does not crush you, you have proof that it is made of cardboard boxes or styrofoam. Then I am sure you can easily deny that giant robot.”
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