"People seek security, Esther. You're giving them the feeling that their need for revenge is just, or if it isn't, you stop them. You are like a god to them."
I laugh. "I'm a therapist, this is my job. They prefer Edith to me."
"That is because they are unable to acknowledge their own faults to others," he points out. I set away my headgear and pull up the stats of avatar popularity. My server has skyrocketed since it started a few months ago, for the exact reasons Shogo has mentioned.
I just recently graduated from college and got what Sybil deemed to be a suitable job. I'm a therapist, but I work online for the most part. It's much more effective when the patient believes they're anonymous. I chose the name of the server to be Edith's Revenge, and advise ways to get back at people without harming anyone or clouding their hues. If I think the motive to be petty, I talk them out if it to the best of my ability. It's a simple idea, but people have latched onto it like fish to a hook.
I spin around in my chair to face Shogo. "So, what is it you find so fascinating about this one?" I haven't seen Shogo himself kill for years, which has me relieved and my hue steady and clear, but he's a master manipulator. He can control people to the point where, even when they know he's pulling the strings, they either can't help but go along with it, or they don't care. He's an absolute feast for the mind. He has his puppets do the dirty work for him, and I'm just fine with that. Or, I guess I should say, I'm just happy he isn't the one who's pulling the trigger.
Recently he's been assisting a criminal with a passion for online avatars. The boy is what you might call the number one fan of all computerized idols. In my opinion, the guy's devotion to them is kind of creepy, but Shogo only plays with toys that have caught his eye. With things like that being his taste, it makes me wonder why he keeps me around.
"Don't you wonder?" he asks, looking up from the Shakespearean play in his lap. "He takes on the role of thee characters so effortlessly. How does he do it? What is his true face?"
"It sounds to me like an identity crisis. He doesn't know who he is, so he's able to easily act out other personalities. He's trying them on." Shogo's phone rings and he listens.
He hangs up after saying, "Prepare a trap for the hunting dogs, or at least leave an escape route for our fox." I take a sip of coffee and choke. He forgot to add sweetener again. I'm touched that he always makes me a cup on late nights, but he knows I hate things bitter.
"So," I start, setting it down, "they've made their move?"
"They've set bait Talisman cannot refuse," he tells me. I nod. The only thing I can think of that would put him in such a position would be an offline avatar party. He did say Talisman, not the kid's name after all. He must've been invited by a major server leaders working with MWPSB.
"When is it?"
"I'll go then, to supervise. I want to know what the inspectors' avatars are."
He stares at me for a second. "I have no complaints as long as you get yourself out before the dogs can catch you."
"They won't be able to as long as I keep my psycho pass clear. I mean, they might get suspicious if their dominators tell them I'm showing no signs of stress, but they won't be able to shoot me. There isn't much they can do without Sybil's guns. Besides, I'm innocent in their eyes. Talisman has never even been to Edith's server, so they'll have nothing to connect us."
He closes his book and stands, going to the doorway. "If you want to go, get some sleep."
"You too. More than just a few hours tonight." He doesn't respond, leaving me alone in my room. I sigh and change into my nightshirt and sweatpants. He'll probably wake up at sunrise again. It can't be healthy for him, getting so little sleep.
When I climb in bed, Snowball squawks, "Goodnight!"
"Shut up you stupid cockatoo," I mutter. "You three need sleep as well." I've always liked birds. Over the past few years, I've collected a cockatoo, a parrot, and a canary.
"Goodnight!" the parrot mimics. I shush him and slide under the covers. I hope they weren't annoying Shogo while I was online. He doesn't particularly like the two bigger ones, but he seems to like Song, my canary. She's learned to sing complex tunes from famous composers, and she's beautiful to listen to. As I relax, she starts into a soft and repetitive song that helps lull me to sleep.
It's mid afternoon when I wake up. The first thing I do is check the birds' food and water before I head to the kitchen. I would really love a link of sausage, or a strip of bacon, but there's not a pound of meat in this place. Shogo's been a vegetarian for as long as I can remember. I settle for an orange and pull up today's news. Still no word on our avatar stealer.
I smirk. Of course there isn't. This is a world wallowing in corruption, despite our efforts to cleanse it. Nothing important is released to the public anymore. Our lovely Sybil System won't allow it so we don't get stressed.
I close the screen and come nose to beak with my holographic hawk. "Your hue is bright today, so let's work to keep it that way!"
"Good morning to you too, Hunter." Since he's the one who reads my psycho pass, this computerized bird knows how explosive my hue is as well as I do. Shogo somehow hacked into him to disconnect him from from Sybil to the extent where he can still read my psycho pass, but none of the data returns to Sybil itself. I have no idea how that works, but I'm not nearly as tech savvy as he and his underlings are. All I know is that I can check to make sure I haven't gotten cloudy without Sybil being alerted to my mental health.
My watch opens a holograph with an address typed onto it. The sender is named as anonymous, but I recognize who it is anyway. We have each other's contact information memorized, but none of it is saved just in case. You have to be careful with technology.
"Hunter, get me my Edith costume."
"Right away." My worn pj's transform into a sleek black dress that drags on the ground. My hair gets shocked into a vibrant purple, curly and bouncy. Two fangs protrude in my mouth and I roll my tongue back. I've never liked the pointy teeth, but I can't just change my avatar after becoming so popular. Bat wings materialize between my arms and torso, and there are suddenly shimmering black heels on my feet instead of fuzzy blue slippers. I created Edith with the image of mysterious authority in mind. Many people choose to forgo their usual human figure, but keeping it actually has a powerful psychological effect. They tend to gravitate towards me without realizing it because, in comparison to most online characters, I seem human and familiar.
If I leave now, I'll be at least an hour early, but it'll give me time to scope out the area and plan my exit. Also, it'll give me an idea of where the police might hideout in case they come beforehand. They'll likely try to attend the party undercover, which will give me the chance to learn their avatars. I'm sure they have one or two new detectives from the graduating class, and you never know when they might add an extra enforcer. It'll be beneficial if I can learn their identities before we actually come in contact with them.
I decide not to carry a weapon, cause it'd most likely raise my crime coefficient. I've never killed anyone, but I've hurt people before when absolutely necessary. I hate it. When something like that happens, I have to avoid the psycho pass scanners for at least a few hours before I can calm down. I've found ways to clear my hue quickly through much experience.
"I'm off. Hunter, don't let Snowball or Cranberry bother the neighbors." I catch a cab and give him the location. He gives my outfit an odd look, but takes me there without saying anything about it. Full holosuits aren't that unusual. I don't entirely understand why cabs still require drivers, since cars pretty much drive themselves.
I pay him in cash when we arrive and enter the building. It's empty, but there are colored lights dangling from the ceiling, and bars without bartenders, waiting for the flood of people that is soon to come. There aren't many places to hide, which narrows it down to two distinct possibilities. The first is that the police wont hide. They'll come one by one, just like everyone else. The second is a hallway that connects to the main room. The lights in it are busted, and the only thing it leads to is an extra exit.
If they are planning to come early, that would be the place for them. A number of people could fit there without being noticed. I'll notice, though, cause I'll be looking. But what am I going to do for another forty-five minutes? I flop down on a chair, sighing. I came way too early, but I had to. If the police want to get here before the party started, I had to look around before they arrived.
A light bulb blinks on in my head and go over to the main bar. From it, I grab a bottle of wine. I might as well enjoy myself for the time being. Alcohol isn't found many places these days, and I'm barely over the age to drink.
The lights have begun to sting my eyes. I swirl around the dance floor unable to stop giggling, bumping into people left and right. When did it become so crowded again? My feet tangle together with someone else's and I fall, laughing my head off. It has been forever since I've had this much fun! A vibration at my wrist demands my attention and I look down, seeing Shogo has sent me another message.
Remember why you came.
I giggle. "Oh yeah." Shakily, I climb to my feet. Recalling the hallway, I glance in its direction. Sure enough, I catch the flash of a badge in the shadows. What should I do now?
I stumble over and surprise one of the officers in hiding. "I'm tiiired," I moan, falling against one of the detectives. One of the enforcers aims his dominators at me and I snicker, "Am I clouded, ociffer?" Huh, something sounded wrong. "I mean, officer. You gonna arrest me?" I hold out my hands for the handcuffs, but, as expected, he lowers his gun. I grin. My hue's as clear as mud. Wait, is that right? Clear as...ah, whatever. My hue is clear.
"Are you Edith? From Edith's Revenge?" I look up at the girl I'd stumbled into, finally seeing who she actually is.
"Oh, hey Akane. You a dog watcher now?"
"How do you know my name?"
"I memorized everyone's names," hic, "in college. There was Kaitou, Mina, Yuki, Sakura-" I ramble on and on, listing most everyone that we went to school with. When I'm around the one fourth mark, she props me against the wall. I whine, "What was that for?"
Another message on my watch. This one says, Return home. I laugh. "Gotta go! Bye Akane! I hope to see you again!" I use the wall to clamber towards the exit at the end of the hall.
Akane yells after me, "Wait, who are you?"
I give her a mock salute in return. "Tell ya later!" Then I turn and continue on my way. When I reach the door, I hear the sound of a forming holograph and glance over my shoulder. Akane is Lemonade Candy. Noted.
I trip out the door and pause to rest. A few seconds later, Talisman darts out past me. The there's another, and another. A giant wave of Talismans pours from the building. I laugh uncontrollably, clutching my stomach. I get it! This is the escape route for the fox! I'd bet the hounds are spinning in circles like lost puppies, taking down new latent criminals left and right.
In all the confusion, I hail a taxi and climb in. Shogo is waiting for me inside. The driver pulls away from the party without any questions and we're on our way home.
"Akane Tsunemori is the new recruit," I yawn. "Her avatar is Lemonade Candy." Even with this new information, when I meet his eyes, it's obvious he's upset.
"Why did you make contact?" I sit in silence, not having any excuses. It just sort of happened, and it had seemed like a good idea at the time.
"Sorry," I grumble. I prop my chin in my hand and my eyes drift shut, beyond my control. That party took way too much energy. It isn't long before I begin to float over to dreamworld, so whatever Shogo says next, I don't catch.
Even so, I'd like to think he's worrying about me.