「……Thank you for your hard work」
That’s what I say while turning off the lights in an empty office. Of course, no one would respond. With one stretch, I pick up my backpack with an old bear-character key holder on it and tuck away my employee ID card. Today, when most professions in this world can be done remotely, coming to work or even building at the office is becoming non-existent. However, not all companies are on the cutting edge. At a small black company like ours, the CEO is an analog person, and we have been doing business as usual without any change. Thanks to that, I have a lot of unpaid overtime, and I get phone calls on my days off. There was no such thing as privacy.
I come to work first thing in the morning and leave the company last. That is my role as a lowly employee. I don’t talk to anyone, except for the business requests I am asked to do. Or perhaps I should say that I don’t have time to talk to anyone. The only place I stop by is a convenience store, but even there I don’t talk to anyone because all the stores are now unmanned.
I picked up a suitable sandwich at the convenience store and then stared blankly at the juice shelf. I suddenly noticed that a vendor was putting his products on the shelves. He was a tall, blonde-haired young man, very modern. I suddenly couldn’t stand it anymore, and after picking a suitable product, sneaked out of the store.
I’ve been shy for a long time, and I couldn’t make friends at all. I had a lot of trouble with that when I was a student, but I think it has gotten better since I became a working adult. As long as I did my job, I was able to get away with a few things. I never intended to get deeply involved with humans in the first place, and I thought it was impossible for me to love anyone or be friends with anyone in this world. I don’t think there is anyone in the world who understands me. If there was such a thing as love, I wanted you to show that to me.
Well, if I was tall and had a good face like the young man I mentioned earlier, that might be a different story. But now I’m just a mundane, low-faced person that’s common everywhere. I am short and skinny. In addition, I have no communication skills. I’m the only one, no matter where I go. I am just crawling around in this muck.
I pour the words that overflowed into my throat along with the beer. I can feel the tension in my body unraveling with just a little alcohol in my system. I’m sleepy, and I haven’t even had dinner yet, but I put my fingertips, which are gradually getting warmer, into the futon. My brain melts into a muddy mess, and I vaguely think about what time to wake up tomorrow. My body is submerged in the cushions.
「Hey Haven, I’m tired.」
《Thank you for your time. Shall I put on some of your favorite music?》
「Yeah, put it on.」
Haven is the AI partner I use. I have known her for a long time. She’s been with me since high school, so she knows me better than I know myself. She is also a kind AI who would never hurt me.
「Hey, Haven, set the time for 5:30」
Haven said something, but I couldn’t hear it anymore.
「——you, hey you over there」
It’s a dream I knew about it from the moment my consciousness lit up there. For some reason I was convinced that this was a dream and that I would wake up. Still, it’s dazzling. Even with my eyes closed, I could tell that there was a bright light behind my thin eyelids. Something bright and dazzling. I timidly open my eyelids.
When I opened my eyes, the space was filled with pure white light. Both the left and right sides of my eyes were completely covered with light. If someone told me that this place was heaven, I’m sure I would agree. While thinking about such things, I was looking for someone who was calling my name. However, there was not a single person or living thing there. I stood up slowly, my head is dizzy. It sounds like you have low blood pressure.
「You must know someone, you’ve already met.」
I felt something behind me, and when I turned around, my fluffy white shirt was swaying. His black permed hair flutters gently in the wind. Probably a man. But it was neutral and indescribable. For some reason, I was fascinated —that white shirt passed through an arch made of light and disappeared beyond that. I want to chase after that white shirt, but I’m scared and cramped. On the arch was written《XANA》. At that moment, the dream was completely awakened.
「…Haa, it’s morning.」
As I squint at the darkness of the night piercing through the curtains, I turn off the alarm that was due to go off a long time ago. Come to think of it, I forgot that today was my first day off in a month. While looking at the calendar, I pretend to fix my completely crazy sense of the days of the week. However, I had a strange dream. I often have dreams of being attacked by monsters and monstrosities, but this was the first time I had such a strange dream. I try to remember, but it’s scary because my memory becomes vague from the moment I wake up except for the white shirt. Before I could remember anything, I was trying to sort out the events in that dream with my mind.
XANA——Yes, it also appeared in that dream. The words sounded familiar. So-called virtual reality or something called metaverse. Now most people who don’t have a negative reaction to such things use it. It seems that most of the people around me are participating, but I didn’t know the details.
「Hey Heaven, research XANA」
When I asked Haven, information about it lined up in the field of view through the glass. Heaven is also an AI partner of XANA: GENESIS, but being shy, I only interacted with Heaven. I read the official address at the top—at that moment, I saw the world around me change into a colorful world on the Glass screen. The well-maintained, unique, colorful, and adorable towns and the people who walk by are dressed in their desired appearances. Everyone has a different skin color and eye color. They watch fireworks in the night sky, dance, and go shopping. It is as if they are in the real world.