Sunlight streamed in through the windows of the Cram Duel School, and what little clouds could be seen in the sky were tiny wisps of white. By all accounts, it was another beautiful morning in Maiami City.
For one person, however, the weather was the last thing on his mind.
The boy leapt up with a start, nearly dropping the sizable sheaf of papers in his hand, and whirled around from the window overlooking the street to see the Principal's secretary behind him.
"He's ready to see you now," the young woman said.
About time, thought Eita Kyuando as he made his way to the principal's office.
The Cram Duel School had no short supply of detractors. It was often said by other Dueling schools around the city that their students seemed to combine every known stereotypical aspect of the "nerd", not least among them being an appetite for knowledge that appeared only to feed their ego—knowledge that, in many cases, had little or nothing to relate to Dueling. But the CDS cared little for empty insults; knowledge was all that concerned them. Indeed, their motto, from the school's inception, had always been "Knowledge is number one—the correct answer is only one!"
Eita Kyuando was here, in this office, because of the actions of only one person. And out of all the brilliant minds he had to compete against at CDS, there was only one brilliant mind he could trust to help him out with his problem.
The owner of that mind now sat across from him, fiddling with a tablet computer in one hand, and a stray brown hair in the other that had somehow been spared from the liberal amounts of gel that made his appearance possible.
"It's not often," said the principal of CDS, as he put aside his tablet, "that a student goes to see his principal these days—usually it seems to be the other way around, hmm?" he added slyly.
Eita did not look up. "Where does a genius go to solve a question he can't answer?" he said. When he'd first heard it a year ago, it had been the one riddle he'd failed to have a ready answer to.
The principal laughed. "Another genius, of course," he chuckled. "So, how can I help you, Eita-kun?"
Eita thrust the stack of papers he'd been holding onto the desk. "I wanted to talk about this."
It took only a few seconds for the principal to skim the first page of the sheaf. "A rough draft for your thesis on Dueling history?" he asked, frowning. "Seems like an excellent one to me."
Eita snorted. "Look at the grade," he said, irritated.
The principal's frown only deepened as his eyes saw the red-inked number at the top of the page. "An eighty-nine? Eita, from what your peers have told me of your history professor, a grade this high in his class is nothing if not enviable. And besides," he said with a reassuring smile, "it is only a rough draft. There is meant to be room for—"
Eita sprang to his feet, and slammed his small fists on the desk. "Don't say that!" he shouted. He did not want to hear anything about the word improvement. He was the Universe of Knowledge, the King of Quizzes! Why bother improving on something that was already perfect?
His face fell as a memory from less than two weeks ago, of a boy with red-and-green hair and a smile, surfaced in his mind. "I should have gotten a hundred percent on that paper," he hissed. "I would have … if not for … "
The smile died on the principal's face, with a look of understanding in its place. Evidently he seemed to realize what was going on.
"I don't know what's happening to me," Eita said, his voice shaking—though with rage or regret, he could not tell. "But ever since that Duel, my grades have never been the same. I can't concentrate; I can't Duel. I … I'd never felt more insulted than when that, that 'Fool-ya' strutted in and … and … " He could not finish his sentence.
The principal was now fiddling with his tablet with both hands. "Well, from what these numbers are showing me here," he said as he indicated the display, "you're still on track to be one of the brightest Duelists that's ever walked through my doors—and certainly in the past five years. So you'll forgive me, Eita-kun, if I can't quite see why this is making you so upset."
Eita said nothing.
"It seems to me, however," continued the principal, leaning back in his chair, "that there is something bigger at issue than your grades. You're a genius on every level, Eita. But I imagine that what happened when that boy from You Show came by must have been a very humbling experience. Is that what was bothering you?"
Eita nodded slowly.
Suddenly, a smile crept over the principal's face. "Well, I might know a way to bring you out of your rut."
Eita laughed hollowly. "You weren't the one who was Dueling that know-nothing," he scowled. "Somehow I don't think another of your quizzes is going to help me out here."
The principal laughed. "Oh, no. Better than a quiz," he said. "A Quiz Duel. And I know just who to find for your opponent."
Eita looked up, surprised. A Quiz Duel?
The principal stood up. "Why don't you head back to class, Eita-kun?" he asked, shooing him out of the office. "I have a few calls to make."
An hour later
Elsewhere in the city, on the ground floor of the most recognizable building downtown, a phone rang.
"Welcome to the Leo Duel School," said the receptionist. "How can we help you?" She listened to the voice on the other end intently, scribbling on a notepad in the meantime. "Yes, he is in." A pause. "Please hold while I transfer your call."
Twenty floors above her, in an office more spacious than most houses in Maiami City, another phone rang.
"This is Reiji Akaba," answered its owner. "Of course. I'll see to it as soon as possible."
With one push of a button, he'd connected to another number. "Nakajima, I need you to head to Research and Development. Tell them I need to see Q. I'll be down there in twenty minutes."
Three days later
The notices had gone up on every wall of the Cram Duel School almost literally overnight: a special assembly was to be taking place at the end of classes today. Only two people in the whole building had any idea as to its purpose—and even then, neither one knew entirely what to expect.
Well, at any rate, Eita certainly didn't—which meant no one else did, either.
"Are you ready, Eita-kun?" the CDS principal asked him encouragingly. They were standing in the hallway leading out to the Dueling arena. From the sounds of things, every single student of CDS was out there.
And in truth, Eita wasn't sure just how ready he was. He'd spent all of yesterday (the principal had excused him from class to help, which annoyed Eita a little; he hated being behind the curve no matter what the situation) building his special Quiz Deck to be better and more powerful than ever before. He'd revamped it multiple times, and there were cards inside that even the tomato-head wouldn't have thought possible. And yet, Eita still wasn't sure if he'd ever be ready enough.
But he saw the bright look in his principal's eye, and it was enough to give him just a little spark in his mind—just what he needed for another Quiz Duel. Yes, that was all this was, surely.
"I think so," Eita nodded. "No," he hurriedly corrected himself, "I know so!"
"That's the spirit!" smiled the principal. "Today we'll show the Leo Duel School what knowledge really is!"
It took a moment for Eita's brain to catch up with his ears. But when it did, a cold sweat immediately began forming around his neck.
Possibly, the principal had noticed, because he immediately looked guilty about something. "Oh … I shouldn't have said that," he said, half to himself. He muttered something Eita couldn't hear, but before he could say anything in reply, the principal had scurried away towards the arena.
The Leo Duel School … the most prestigious school in the city … Eita's brain was racing now; this was not in any way what he had expected. The Duelists of LDS were widely considered to be on a whole other level from most others—even some of the pros, it was said.
Even … him, a small voice said in his head.
Eita paused. That was right; You Show's best wouldn't stand a chance against LDS' worst. Duelists at LDS were smarter in every way than that idiot with the funny-looking dragon and his funny-looking haircut.
Suddenly, Eita Kyuando was feeling a little better about his chances here. So I'm facing someone from LDS, he thought. For some reason, the thought was much more reassuring than it had any right to be.
At least, he thought to himself, I can compete with someone out there who's actually close to my level.
He brought himself back to reality at the last possible moment. The lights had gone out in the arena; the Principal was about to make his announcement.
Spotlights flared to life overhead, revealing the CDS principal, magenta suit and all, in all his glory.
"Good afternoon, students of the Cram Duel School!" he bellowed in a stentorian voice through his microphone. "Where knowledge is … "
"NUMBER ONE!" the students shouted back at him.
"And the correct answer is … "
"ONLY ONE!" cheered the audience.
"Now!" said the principal. "Over the past several days there have been announcements of a special assembly to take place today. Now that we are all here, I can tell you why. We have three very important guests joining us here today. The first two, I believe, need no introduction—but even so, please give a warm welcome to Reiji and Himika Akaba!"
Eita was stunned. "Reiji … Akaba?!" he whispered. His eyes followed the principal's hand, indicating someone further behind him. He was right—there was no mistaking that two-toned silver hair, nor the red-framed glasses, the casual blue sweater, or the deep red scarf that billowed behind the current chief executive of the Leo Corporation.
The current CEO, Eita remembered … and world-renowned Duelist.
Suddenly that good feeling he'd had earlier was gone. Am I really going to be Dueling him?!
To Reiji's left, meanwhile, was a tall, stately woman, old enough to be his mother, with vivid pink hair in a heart-shaped hairstyle. She wore a dress that was, if anything, even more brightly pink than her hair—and the coldest smile Eita had ever seen. He guessed that must be Himika.
Behind these two, however, was something he couldn't immediately see, owing to the white cloth draped over it. Eita could only make out a vague feeling of a slab-shaped form roughly twice his height.
"Unfortunately," the principal was saying, "I cannot introduce our third guest as of now. Mrs. Akaba tells me I am under a nondisclosure agreement of some description."
Himika Akaba gave a polite laugh at this, and some of the CDS staff followed suit. It could not have been plainer that no one who'd laughed had found that remotely funny, especially since the smile of that woman had yet to warm a fraction of a degree.
The principal, however, was undaunted. "And so," he said, "I shall yield the floor to someone who is under no such restriction: Reiji Akaba!"
The cheer that followed was not only much louder, but much more genuine this time. If there was anything CDS had in common with any other Duel School in the city, it was a universal, unabashed admiration of the young man now walking up to take the microphone from their principal. It was hard to believe he was only sixteen.
Reiji tapped the microphone a few times before he spoke. "Good afternoon," he said. "It's my pleasure to be here at the Cram Duel School, and I must once again convene my thanks to your principal for inviting me here—the brainchild, so to speak, behind this entire event."
Even from where he stood, Eita could have sworn he'd seen the principal blushing at being pointed out this way.
Reiji cleared his throat. "Ever since the first cards of Duel Monsters were produced," he said, "there has always been one force behind its advancement in our society: innovation. Whenever an artist produces the artwork of a card, there is innovation. Whenever a Duelist draws that card, and plays it as part of some grand strategy, there is innovation. And over those years and years, we have seen Duel Monsters played on not only tabletops, but on technology. And here, again, we see innovation."
Many of the other students were nodding.
"Technology," Reiji repeated. "It's strange to think, isn't it? For a game so reliant on technology these days, its most important parts have always remained … human."
He smiled. "Until today."
There were murmurs from the audience now.
Reiji swept his hand, indicating the tall slab behind him. "Some of you may be wondering about what you're seeing behind me," he said, "the reason why you are all here. Well then, wonder no longer."
And in one swift movement, he had strode up to the slab and whipped off the cloth.
In terms of appearance, Eita was stunned by the sheer lack of it. All that the cloth had been covering was a featureless rectangle, carved seemingly from black glass to the flatness of a mirror—and polished almost to the finish of a mirror as well.
Then he took a closer look, and saw that there were lights dancing under all that black glass.
And somewhere in the back of his mind, he understood. "Is that a … ?" he murmured.
"I introduce to you, and to the world," said Reiji, "a prototype for the most powerful Dueling supercomputer ever developed by the Leo Corporation. Please welcome … Q!"
The applause was pleasant, but scattered. Evidently Eita had not been the only one perplexed by this introduction.
"A Dueling … supercomputer?" he wondered out loud.
"I know what you're thinking," Reiji was saying. "Most Duel Schools, after all, have a computer of some sort that helps train their students to Duel."
Eita knew he was right. The CDS computer, in fact, had been donated from one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. Only LDS possessed a more powerful Dueling computer—although, to be fair, it was as many leaps and bounds ahead of its competition as the rest of LDS.
"However," Reiji continued, "the behavioral software incorporated into Q allows him to not only train a Duelist, but to think like a Duelist. For all intents and purposes of Dueling, therefore, Q is just as human as you and me.
"And to prove it to you," he said with a flourish, "I will yield the floor to Q."
More murmurs. Suddenly, the lights inside the supercomputer began to flash more brightly. Features under the black glass could be seen more readily, even to Eita; he could see an eye-like shape with crisscrossing golden lines in the middle of the slab. On either side of this "eye" was a diamond-cut jewel, one red, the other blue.
Now this eye was beginning to glow, almost like a hologram projector—no, Eita thought, a Solid Vision projector, though a very scaled-down version. Nevertheless, he had to admit this was very impressive, to have compressed this technology down to such a level. A great deal of effort had gone into building this machine—that much was clear.
Then he saw what the projector was forming—or rather, who.
Eita Kyuando stared, utterly agog, as Reiji Akaba handed the microphone to Reiji Akaba.
"Hello there," said the other Reiji, completely identical, both in form and voice, to the Reiji standing behind his left. "My name is Q."
The cheering was deafening.
"It sure is great to get out of that bag," said Q, to general laughter from the staff. "Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I'd like to share with you a maxim I thought of the first time I met a KaibaCorp mainframe: Never trust a computer you can't lift!"
There were more laughs from the staff, and many of the students as well. A few of them even applauded.
"Obviously, I can talk," said Q (was that a note of smugness in its synthetic voice, or was Eita hearing things?), "but right now I'd like to sit back and listen … and, perhaps, to Duel. So it is with considerable pride that I introduce a man who's been like a father to me—Reiji Akaba."
Eita dug a finger into one ear as the cheering began again. He'd never heard CDS cheer that loudly for anyone—not even him.
The image of Reiji, meanwhile, bowed to the audience, and faded into nothingness as the "eye" began to dim.
"Very well said, Q," said the real Reiji as he took back the microphone. "Principal, I believe that is your, uh … cue." He waited for several of the staff to laugh at the clever play on words. "We hope you enjoy our demonstration to come. Thank you."
If the audience cheered any louder, Eita thought, they were liable to bring the roof down.
The CDS principal, meanwhile, had shaken hands with Reiji as he walked off, and now took the microphone back for himself. "And thank you, Mr. Akaba … and Q … for that riveting display," he said. "Now, then, Mr. Akaba mentioned just now a demonstration. And to that end, he has arranged a Duel between Q and one of our students. Please give a round of applause for the King of Quizzes—the Universe of Knowledge—Eita Kyuando, who has graciously agreed to be Q's opponent for this momentous occasion!"
True to Eita's observations, the audience—though certainly more welcoming than they'd been against the tomato-head—weren't cheering for him quite so loudly as they had for Reiji and his digital doppelganger. But he stepped forward nonetheless, and held out his hands to receive the adulation of his fellow students.
The featureless black body of Q looked rather more daunting up close than from where Eita had been standing. But he did not let himself get fazed by this—it was one thing to face a Duelist, but quite another matter to face a computer ... an easier matter, actually. Memory banks and algorithms could only take a computer so far against the human brain.
Nevertheless, Eita felt that a test was in order. Using the best "quiz show host" voice he could muster, he quickly reeled off the first question he could think of.
"What is the triple point of water?"
Q didn't waste a fraction of a second. "Zero-point-zero-one degrees Celsius, as defined by the International Temperature Scale of 1990," he responded in Eita's own voice.
Eita grinned. Oh yes, he thought. He would do nicely. He made a mental note to thank the principal for arranging this Duel after this—a Quiz Duel, finally, in which he wouldn't have to put up with the inferior minds of inferior Duelists.
But Q had not finished talking. "It is customary," he said, Eita's replicated voice sounding strangely pointed, "for Duelists to shake hands first before Dueling, is it not?"
Eita swore he could feel his follow-up question ("Why was the International Temperature Scale of 1990 established?") turn to ash on his tongue. "Um," he could only say, not at all expecting the supercomputer to take an issue with such a needless formality—especially not with such an attitude.
Reiji was right about one thing, he thought—this machine certainly acted human.
Eita settled for pointing at the slab, and its noticeable lack of a hand to shake—but Q seemed to be answering his unspoken question for him. The golden eye of the Solid Vision projector was glowing again, and another, shorter human form was materializing before his eyes: slightly taller than Eita, with red wristbands and shoes, olive-colored cargo pants with extra-large pockets, a white jacket with red vest—
—and that same green-and-crimson hair.
Eita didn't even hear the scattered cheers from the audience; his knees had buckled, and he almost fell backward as the all-too-familiar image of Yuya Sakaki smiled that all-too-familiar smile at him.
"No," he said weakly. "Not him. I'd rather Duel myself before seeing him again!"
He hoped fervently that no one else had heard that—but again, Q seemed to be responding to him. The form of Yuya was shifting, now, the hair changing in length and color, the clothes becoming more formal: a three-piece black suit, perfectly tailored to its wearer, if perhaps more appropriate for a black-tie dance than a Duel.
And now, Eita was yet again floored, if in a slightly more pleasant way, by how Q could reflect anything—or anyone—that it saw. He'd always wondered what he would look like if he were wearing clothes that nice.
But it was not a perfect replica by any means—the nose was wrong; it was too pointed. His eyes weren't that narrow, either, and Eita was pretty sure he wasn't that tall. The signature blond 'Q' in his hair had been successfully duplicated, however, and the wide smile on the replica's face was definitely Eita's own. But the boy genius would have been kidding himself if he didn't think that the other Eita Kyuando across from him looked scary.
The phrase 'evil twin' even came to mind.
It's only a supercomputer, Eita told himself. Supercomputers were only tools; they had vast intelligence—but no consciousness. Despite all the strength and power it possessed, Eita knew he was superior to this machine.
But he dared not say this out loud—somehow, Eita Kyuando had a suspicion that his big mouth had landed him in enough trouble already.
And so, with a swallow, he extended his hand, and shook the construct's own. The hard light felt surprisingly cool to the touch.
"Action Field: On!" roared the principal. "Field Spell: Quiz Frontier! Activate!"
Eita's smile widened: the principal was using his favorite Action Field. These were special Field Spells that allowed each player to use Action Cards, which would shortly be distributed around the three-dimensional field. But Quiz Frontier was unlike even these Fields—and it was where he truly shined as a Duelist. Here, no one could rely on their skills as a Duelist alone.
Not even, he thought, the Leo Corporation's most powerful computer.