It began back on July 1st.
“A demonstration?” asked her underclassman, Shirai Kuroko, over the phone.
Misaka Mikoto was dressed in her usual summer clothes as she responded over the cell phone at her ear.
“Yes. They said one of Academy City’s seven Level 5s is the easiest kind of sample for others to understand and that my power is the most suitable to be explained of those seven. That’s why I need to go to a cooperative organization and carry out a large-scale performance.”
In reality, a power that clearly exceeded normal physical phenomena like Shirai Kuroko’s Teleportation would be even easier for others to understand, but those who did not understand how espers worked wanted to see someone from the “strongest group”.
Whether she understood that or not, Shirai Kuroko spoke.
“Oh, onee-sama!! So basically, you’re going to be dragged up on stage for some kind of secret human exhibition!? How dirty! I have been truly careless for someone who calls herself your herald!! Ah! It is not too late. I can rush to your side and save you at the perfect moment when you are being displayed half naked!!”
“I’m going to ignore your ramblings. I just wanted to let you know I won’t be back for a week.”
“A-a whole week!? With no break!? That’s simply too much of that kind of erotic thing!! That is not a kind of marathon you can get through on youth alone!!”
“Shut up. I don’t want to do go along with this school play-like thing either. And Kuroko, I really don’t think you can come along this time no matter what you say.”
“Onee-sama, please do not take my power so lightly. If I wanted to, I could sneak into a nuclear shelter.”
“Yeah, but I still don’t think you could do it.”
Mikoto glanced over at a road sign.
However, it was not written in Japanese. It was written in Cyrillic characters.
“Not even you can cross the Sea of Japan to get to Russia.”
Some people may have been jealous if they were told that Mikoto was going to Eastern Russia for a school event. They may have complained about unfair treatment if they were told that only she got to go and her classmates were stuck with normal lessons.
However, Misaka Mikoto felt only melancholy.
Simply put, it was not enjoyable.
First and foremost, the school trip had a clear objective. And that objective was solely for the convenience of the school. It did not take Mikoto herself into account.
Not only was she deprived of her freedom, but she did not have any fellow students with which to share the high and low points of the trip.
It was impossible for her to enjoy it.
A school trip with a large group could be enjoyable and a trip on one’s own with complete freedom could be enjoyable, but that was not.
(A demonstration, hm?)
Mikoto recalled what the frightening dorm supervisor had told her before she came to Russia.
The trip was part of a plan to strengthen Academy City’s connections with its cooperative institutions. In other words, there was a danger of various cracks appearing if she were to fail.
It seemed a disparity in technological levels was behind it all. There was supposed to be a difference of 20 or 30 years in technology between Academy City and the rest of the world. The cooperative institutions received a certain level of benefits from that, but Academy City did not fully release their information. It was a countermeasure against information leaks, but the cooperative institutions did not particularly enjoy it.
(They’re having a demonstration of one of the Level 5s that are the center of their program in order to emphasize that they are not hiding anything.)
Of course, nothing about Mikoto would actually be analyzed.
It was nothing more than an event to overturn the appearance Academy City had. It was just a trick to make it look like they were not hiding anything. Accurate information on Academy City’s seven Level 5s would not be handed over so easily.
Misaka Mikoto’s value as a living resource was greater than even a handful of jungles.
(…I’m being treated like a large and rare spider.)
Mikoto then noticed someone approaching her.
It was the local guide.
“Oh, hello! Welcome, welcome!!”
A tall woman approached Mikoto while speaking in a cheerful voice. She had long blonde hair, white skin, and a smooth, slender body. She was taller than Mikoto and appeared to be around college age.
“I am Setali S. Skinikia, a security guard. As a member of one of Academy City’s cooperative institutions, I am honored to meet the #3 Level 5.”
She skipped straight past shaking Mikoto’s hand without permission and embraced her. If the woman had been Shirai Kuroko, Mikoto would have fired a high voltage current at her, but she was not sure how to react when it was the first time meeting the person.
“Oh, I just can’t believe one of those Level 5s would come here alone…”
“This is a demonstration to show our trust, so it would be meaningless if I was surrounded by security, don’t you think?”
Mikoto used both hands to gently push away the guide and Setali let out a laugh of unknown meaning.
“Nya ha ha! I heard you have already checked in, so I’m guessing you were looking around at the cityscape. What do you think? Our technology isn’t at the level of Academy City, but I still think it’s a pretty characteristic city.”
“Do you mind if I speak frankly?”
“Of course not.”
“It’s hurting my eyes.”
“Nya ha ha,” Setali laughed again when Mikoto responded honestly and pointed at the side of a building.
The building was not painted in psychedelic colors.
In fact, the buildings in that city were not painted at all.
“It’s called a Semipublic AR,” Setali said while tapping her foot on the walkway beneath her feet. The walkway had the same process applied to it as the wall.
“Simply put, all of the roads, walls, and signs in the city have been made into giant monitors. Many different services are offered to those walking through the city by having the various pieces of information they want added on to the scenery.”
Even then, the flat walls of the buildings had various pieces of information running across them and many arrows were moving across the walkways. They seemed to display the general flow of the people allowing everyone to continue smoothly.
The general goal had been to turn the city’s scenery and terrain into a giant touchscreen and that ingenious idea had been carried out on the buildings, pillars, and other structures. The buildings came in various forms with some flat and some curved, but none of them tried to look distinct with indentations or protrusions. All of the buildings seemed smooth.
“AR or augmented reality is used on the screens of cell phones and PDAs, right? Isn’t that the thing where you look through the camera and additional information is displayed over the scenery? I’ve heard of using it with facial recognition software to make virtual labeling.”
“That way of using it is easy enough, but when you cannot detect it without using specific tools, you end up with the problem of having people essentially sticking abusive labels on people’s backs. That’s why the AR we developed is ‘semipublic’. The technology we used is borrowed from Academy City, though.”
When she thought about it, Mikoto recalled that Tokiwadai Middle School’s sports areas had a system allowing the signs to automatically display information regarding the match currently ongoing. She had also heard that some public baths had walls that had been made into giant monitors.
She looked around lightly.
“But don’t people dislike having others see the information they’re bringing up?”
“Nya ha ha. The images are made so they’re in focus only for the user, so the image is blurred beyond recognition when others look. The level of isolation for the information can be set by each individual user.”
Basically, the building walls, roads, signs, pillars, and all other objects and structures making up the scenery functioned as monitors and each individual resident could obtain information from them.
The difference from a normal electronic display was that each person using it saw different information being displayed. People could be looking at the same sign and be viewing different information.
That technology was not seen in Academy City, but according to Setali’s explanation, Academy City had provided support in its creation.
It was possible that Academy City was using that city as a wide scale test before it went into real use.
“…That doesn’t seem to fit with the advantages of it being ‘semipublic’ that you mentioned before.”
“Making an environment where things can easily be checked on by a third party tends to act as a deterrent. Not that all of the ARs are normally checked, though.”
“Hmm,” responded Mikoto halfheartedly.
The AR did not seem to be operated by any kind of exclusive device. Mikoto randomly waved her gaze down at the walkway at her feet.
With an electronic hum, an image of Mikoto wearing silk lingerie appeared in the walkway.
“Bfh!?” Mikoto started coughing. “Cough cough!! Wh-what the hell!?”
“What is it?”
“No, um, th-this is…lingerie…An advertisement for a lingerie store seems to have popped up.”
“Hm? Nya ha ha. Did you get caught by the automatic changing?”
“W-wait, this is no joke! Is something like this usually displayed in the middle of a pathway like this!? Get rid of it! Get rid of it! How do I get rid of it!?”
“Don’t worry. It’s like I told you. That kind of electronic display is set to be isolated at a high level in the Semipublic AR. Other people can’t see it. All I can see is some other advertisement.”
“Is that so? …No, wait. Before you explain it, tell me how to use this thing!! Even if no one else can see it, it’s still embarrassing!!”
“Your skin, hair, and eye colors are taken from the photo for your ID you had taken when you entered the city. The rest is just a predicted image based on what you look like with clothes on, so the breast size is actually a little off from reality, see? If we wanted to, we could get accurate measurements taken, but people have a right to their privacy. We stop at just an estimated image.”
“I didn’t ask you about that!! And you don’t need to do any of that! It’s not my fault they’re actually smaller than this!! And how can you see it if it’s a Semipublic AR!?”
“Nya ha ha. Well, y’see, if I put my face up against your cheek like this so the height and distance of my eyes are the same as yours, I can actually see what would normally be blurred beyond recognition.”
“You can see it all!? Tell me how to get rid of this AR right now or I’ll blow away the pathway monitor itself!!”
Mikoto was blushing profusely as Setali taught her how to use it. She then succeeded in getting a keyboard-like touch window to display on a nearby show window. She used her fingers to hurriedly switch it to a mode where it repelled any unnecessary electronic advertisements.
“The Semipublic AR can be a bit troublesome, but you’ll have to get used to it while you’re here. Traffic lights, signs, and crosswalk signals are all displayed using it.”
Setali glanced over at the wall of a building most likely to check on some information.
“Do you have any more questions?”
“W-well….” Mikoto sighed. “A place created by the world’s largest shopping mall becoming a large city is not something you just get used to.”
“Nya ha ha.”
As she laughed, Setali slowly started walking. She may have been scheduled to be somewhere. Mikoto followed her.
“This area is still normal. The area with facilities for visitors like hotels and duty-free stores is an aggregation of buildings like a normal city, but the main business facility has become an incredibly huge construction.”
“…So it’s like a gym big enough to cover up an entire section of a city?”
“This was originally an experimental facility for testing economic effects. It was something like a trade show for experimental products. However, all sorts of things needed to be put inside and it became obvious that the area needed would exceed the planned 650 domed stadiums, so it was decided that it would be easier to just register the entire place as a city.”
“So that’s why it suddenly appeared in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Russia, hm?”
“There were a lot of disagreements as to where to build it. It is a huge scale for a business institution after all. You can’t underestimate the economic effects it would have on the area around it. No matter how successful it is, if all the earnings are focused solely on it, the smaller stores in the area cannot survive. It was rejected from all sorts of places until it finally ended up here.”
Setali opened a window on the wall that was adjusted so Mikoto could see it and made it slide along with them as they walked. A map of Russia was displayed within the window.
“Because of where we are, we need exclusive railways, highways, an airport, and hotels for visitors. That only increased the land we needed even further.”
In other words, they regularly got enough visitors to make those things necessary. Mikoto doubted anyone would travel dozens or hundreds of kilometers to buy everyday items, so the shopping mall must have functioned similarly to a theme park.
Just walking through the facility was an event in and of itself.
Even the food corner had such a great selection and quantity that it became a sight one would not normally get to see.
“…So I guess it’s something like the world’s largest window shopping facility.”
“True. This is an extremely large shopping center with anything you could want, so there are plenty of goods that you would normally never see like professional tools from any industry you can think of. Just seeing an area full of such rare things may look like a fantasy to some people.”
Setali zoomed in the displayed window bringing up a general list of the areas within the city.
The basic makeup of the city was split into two blocks. One block had daily necessities and the other had entertainment and luxury items. The transportation and lodging facilities such as the airport, the terminal stations, and the hotels were focused around the outside edges of the city.
The buildings for hotels, duty-free shops, and other such places were lined up seeming to surround the main large business facility.
A few points of light on the map must have been the areas with highly specialized products that Setali had mentioned.
Unlike in a tourist spot in Japan, the signs did not display things in many different languages. It was all in Russian. It was possible they could be set to other languages via the Semipublic AR, but Mikoto felt no real need to do so.
“But the visitors here travel a long way to get here, so they tend to go beyond window shopping in the end. They seem to think they should buy something since they came all the way here. In fact, the airports take on more packages for delivery than they do passengers.”
“If the president of a shopping channel or a discount store heard that, they would probably be frantically trying to analyze your system.”
“Well, the city exists to research that kind of thing. Money comes first!” Setali yelled out in an unrefined voice. “Have you ever noticed how there can be multiple department stores on the same street, but what sells and what doesn’t is different with only a few hundred meters of difference? Two of the same chain of convenience store can exist within a few dozen meters of each other, but for some reason one of the two will sell a lot more than the other. Putting things on sale can make people think the goods are ‘cheap’, so no one will buy them. If you put new and used accessories next to each other, the new ones will sell better despite having the higher price. …Well, there’s a lot to commerce. There is something that alters how well something sells making it either prosper or fail. This city aims to thoroughly research the psychological effects related to money. Customers pleasantly buy things and that data is used to calculate what environment allows customers to gather more easily and what environment has the opposite effect.”
It was a simple concept to understand because the city had a simple goal.
Drawing in large amounts of visitors like a world-famous theme park allowed them to get even better results for their research.
The city had to be overflowing with various ingenious ways of getting people to go past window shopping and actually buy something. If you did not watch out, your hotel room could end up filled with strange souvenirs.
“So I’m doing my demonstration here.”
“(…Well, it’s not bad being the representative of Academy City, but being forced to do things for the convenience of the adults is a real pain.)”
“(…Well, from the records we received from Academy City, this girl is the most normal, has the easiest to understand power if you’re just seeing it, and has the most reasonable personality. …The other Level 5s would definitely ruin this.)”
Mikoto and Setali both muttered to themselves.
Finally, Setali changed the subject.
“As I said before, there was a problem regarding pressure on smaller stores with the advance of larger facilities such as this one. Searching for a solution to that is one of the themes of our research. …We deal with Academy City quite a bit. We may only receive the downgraded technology, but the quality is still better than anything else. Finding a way to reduce the friction between Academy City and its surroundings has more value than just as an economic effect.” Setali shrugged lightly. “But other than that, this place is surprisingly similar to a normal city. I work as a security guard, but I deal with a lot more dropped items or lost children than I do any real incidents. There are even some urban legends.”
“Nya ha ha. There are all sorts of them. Lately, there’s been one about a ‘very valuable orange’.”
Saten Ruiko was a middle school girl that loved rumors.
Also, she was the type that pursued the rumors that were in truly bad taste and would anger the PTA types.
“Uiharuuu. Are you working on Judgment stuff again? You sure work hard for something you don’t get paid for.”
She was calling to a girl named Uiharu Kazari. Her characteristic trait was the great amount of flower decorations on her head and she was in the process of battling a PDA in order to make some sort of document.
“Saten-san, you chase after rumors despite that not getting you any money.”
“But that’s my hobby. If someone else told me to do it, I’m sure I wouldn’t,” said Saten arbitrarily turning aside Uiharu’s comment. “That boring paperwork doesn’t matter, so come with Saten-oneechan so we can go chase after the rumor about the very valuable orange.”
“…What kind of title is that? It clearly has some hidden meaning to it.”
“Listen, Uiharu!! A traveler was on an overseas trip when he found a souvenir shop in a certain country that was selling a very valuable orange!! It was said to be a mysterious orange that naturally grew in value just by having it!!”
Uiharu’s expression seemed to be saying “here she goes again” and she continued working on her PDA without looking up.
Saten continued speaking regardless.
“So the traveler bought the orange thinking it was a good luck charm or something, but when he got home and put it in his house, it started squirming.”
“The traveler was curious, so he went to the souvenir shop’s website and emailed the shop to check. The response said that the orange had over 100 eggs of a valuable type of ant called a crimson long-legged army ant laid inside. It said that it would naturally rise in value because those would hatch. …As the traveler read the email, the orange burst open!”
“Gyaaahhh!! That’s creepy! You really do love that kind of terrible story, Saten-san!!”
“Apparently, those crimson long-legged army ants love the damp and humid environment of Japan. It seems they’re quietly spreading their breeding area and if they aren’t quickly found and exterminated, the entire main island of Japan will be buried in giant army ants…”
“Stop telling me that kind of thing!! I-it’sh just a rumor!! Sho I don’t have to worry!!”
“Uiharu, those flowers on your head look like they would attract bugs. Bugs with six huge legs like this.”
Mikoto’s face paled a bit upon being told the story of the very valuable orange by Setali. Even though she knew it was just a rumor, it was still creepy.
“Nya ha,” Setali laughed in her characteristic way. “It’s an expansion of the idea of an invasive species destroying the ecosystem of a land. The part about having to quickly find them and exterminate them is a stereotypical threatening message. The story has only spread through this city since it is a shopping mall where anything can be bought. Once you know what an urban legend is based on, it suddenly loses its impact and the fear it causes fades away.”
“It’s still not a very happy story,” Mikoto said in an exhausted way.
Setali seemed to realize that Mikoto was not interested, so she touched a nearby wall in order to change the subject. She seemed to be using her fingers to search for something on the AR and a report appeared on the screen.
“Let’s see, how about we talk about your schedule. Your itinerary, security postings, the progress of the demonstration, and other things are all saved in the online database. You can view any of those things at any time using your guest ID and the personal password we had you set when you entered the city.”
“So the actual demonstrations will be on the third and fourth days. And the rehearsal is on the second day.”
“Think of the first demonstration as for the press and second as for the general public. What you will be doing in both will be the same. …Are these people okay for your security?”
“It’s not like I can really say no, now can I?”
The point of the demonstration was to reduce friction between Academy City and its cooperative institutions regarding the level of technology open to them. If only Academy City personnel were deployed around Mikoto, it would be seen as Academy City not allowing anyone else near their espers which would not reduce the friction.
That was the reason that no Academy City adults such as the dorm manager were accompanying her.
Of course, the Academy City adults may have been very nervous about the whole thing. After all, it would be a major issue if Academy City’s #3 was kidnapped, harmed, or had her DNA map stolen. It would be a loss of a living resource and it could have an effect on the international relationship between Academy City and its cooperative institutions.
As proof of that, the following happened as Mikoto headed back to her hotel where she would part with Setali.
“So what am I scheduled to do now?”
“Nothing. You’re restricted from leaving your room until tomorrow. Academy City asked that we make sure you refrain from taking any actions of your own free will. If you touch the walls or floor to search for some information, I think it will just come up with the documents Academy City sent over.”
“I would think you would be more knowledgeable of the details when it comes to Academy City.”
“Um…I’ve come all this way to a major sightseeing area, so I was kind of thinking of having a look around.”
“Nya ha ha. There will be some guards stationed in front of your room and some of the responsibility lies with me, so please restrain yourself from going out for fun tonight.”
And like that, Mikoto was escorted back to her high class hotel and thrown into her room on the 20th floor. Just before closing the main door to the hotel room, Setali peered in through the gap.
“We may not be as good as Academy City, but our guards are quite skilled, so don’t try anything.”
“Yes, yes, I get it.”
The self-locking door clicked shut. It was painfully clear how Mikoto was being treated. There was no other exit from that room, the entrance to the ventilation ducts were too small for a human to pass through, and only a sheer 20 story drop awaited one out the windows.
Mikoto let out a breath now that she was left alone.
She collapsed face up on the bed.
It was a real pain in the ass.
It was not that she did not want to do the demonstration. She had no complaints about going to Russia, either. However, she was completely bound by the schedule the entire time. It was all just for the convenience of the adults. If she did not have a minute to spare, she could understand, but she was being sealed up during what could have been free time simply because of what was scheduled for later.
Just to be sure, she used the Semipublic AR while still lying on the bed to check on what actually was scheduled for later. As she expected, it was nothing interesting.
It seemed that on the days of the demonstrations, she had to get up on stage wearing a lovely dress and show off some of her skills. She would be covered in sensors at the time, but according to the preliminary calculations Mikoto had done, devices of that level would not be able to obtain data useful for developing psychic powers.
In other words, Academy City was just putting on a show to say that there was no friction between them and the cooperative institutions. They were not actually handing anything over.
Everything was for the convenience of the adults.
It had no real value.
If you had no complaints about that, you might as well just announce you were running for student council president.
(Peter Wellgo, Ran Ryuushu, Eclek Savoge… It looks like they’re all from the diplomatic departments of overseas cooperative institutions. I guess my audience will be made up of stubborn people, too.)
Mikoto’s face grew cloudy as she viewed the list of invited people that was being displayed on the ceiling.
(Viner? What…? Are they holding a weapons show along with the demonstration? I guess that’s how psychic powers are viewed by those outside the city.)
“I can’t just stay on my best behavior,” Mikoto muttered as she lay face up on the bed.
She sat up and looked around.
Once she had decided that she was going to have some fun, that was what she was going to do.
Mikoto looked around and then approached the window.
She was on the 20th floor.
“So am I a captive princess or something?”
Normally, that would be an impossible height to escape from. There were no balconies on the wall. In fact, there were not even any protrusions or rainspouts. It was most likely made that way to heighten the effect of the Semipublic AR. The excessively flat wall had the same sense of height telling one to not get near it like an old castle or an office building.
There was nowhere one could get a foothold and there was no point around which to tie a rope.
“They never seem to realize…”
Mikoto opened the window wide and leaned out.
“…that I can create as many footholds as I need using magnetism.”
She unhesitatingly jumped out.
The bottom of her loafers scraped against the wall while she was in a pose like she was skiing. Academy City’s #3’s sightseeing trip began.
The powerful magnetism caused the AR effects on the hotel wall to be slightly distorted, but there were no major issues.
Mikoto landed after heading vertically down the wall from 20 stories up and then looked around.
“Now then, where should I go? …This is a cooperative institution, so they might have a Russia exclusive Gekota.”
She started walking without having decided on a destination.
The hotel was near the edge of the city. All of the surrounding buildings were other hotels or duty-free shops.
High-rise buildings could not be constructed in the center of the city and the objective of the city was to be the world’s largest shopping mall. It covered a vast area, but it was not all that tall. It was only about 5 stories above the ground.
The large center facility was divided into two major facilities.
Each area was something like a giant shopping mall much larger than a domed stadium. The buildings were not perfectly rectangular. Some parts were just five-story boxes, some parts were shaped like donuts with giant courtyards in the middle, and some parts had large atriums that sank down below ground level.
(Overall, it’s kind of like a giant box that has been eaten into in various places.)
650 domed stadiums.
It was such a vast area, that one might have to ride the subway to get from one store to another. There was also more than one parking lot. Each parking lot was the size of one for a championship soccer match and there was one in each cardinal direction of the giant facility.
Mikoto entered one of the large shopping mall areas.
It did not seem like just a giant building.
For one thing, it was simply too vast.
The insides of the shops were displays full of products just like at a supermarket or a department store. However, there was an overwhelming amount of them making the stores almost seem like a type of labyrinth. It was amazing that each and every thing on display was actually for sale and not just a decoration.
The pet shop was as large as a zoo, the flower shop was like a botanical garden, and the temporary day care for small children was like a small scale amusement park. Mikoto had never before heard of a day care that had a roller coaster inside.
Even though it was evening, there were of course a large number of people there.
That may have been because it was like a theme park or it may have been because the area had no sense of the sunset.
Their prided Semipublic AR functioned as special monitors. The display used RGB instead of CMYK. In other words, the building walls, the path at one’s feet, and everything else glowed. A normal night scene was a collection of points of light, but in that city it was a collection of panels of light. There was simply so much light that any sense of dimness was done away with.
In fact, the less light there was in the surroundings, the more the presence of the Semipublic AR was forced upon you.
The races of the people walking along were varied. It was not just a general mix where some were white, some were black, and some were Asian. Misaka could see some distinctive builds even among those different groups.
Mikoto nodded as she looked around that building that was more a sealed off commercial district than a giant shopping mall.
(With an area this big, there would be a lot of lost children and pickpockets. I can see why they need those security guards in addition to the police. Having workers at the shops double as security was probably inspired by our Anti-Skill.)
And then Mikoto added another comment in her mind.
(…I can see how this would end up being a treasure trove of urban legends.)
There were places about which urban legends naturally popped up such as schools, hospitals, and tunnels. Large amusement parks and shopping malls also fell under that category. Perhaps because children got lost in those places on a daily basis, a lot of the stories about those last two involved human trafficking. Mikoto was not too knowledgeable about that kind of rumor, but even she knew two or three of that sort, so they were probably a fairly major genre.
A very valuable orange.
(That rumor may have spread among tourists who came here because things are sold here that are not in other places. They may have thought that something like that could be found here. Well, there’s no point in thinking about a completely baseless rumor.)
Mikoto continued to walk around that foreign city as it turned to night in hopes of seeing something she had never seen before. After heading up some stairs, she realized she had entered an odd area. Instead of the vast large scale image of the places she had seen before, the shops lined up there were all quite small. The roof was narrow and the entire area seemed rather cramped. The shopping district a ways from the main streets seemed like the entire place had been dragged indoors.
“What is this place?”
She looked around, but she saw no signs. For an instant, she felt the area was quite inconvenient, but then she recalled the Semipublic AR. That city was a place where one could obtain any information one needed.
She brought her hands over to a thick round pillar and called up a keyboard. She typed in “area map” and a detailed diagram of the area immediately appeared on the pillar.
(Hmm… So they’ve invited in a few shops from outside the city. I guess it’s an economic experiment about the fusion of local stores and new stores.)
Small shops were lined up on either side of the long narrow passageway, but old-looking shops and shiny new chain shops alternated like Morse code. The experiment was most likely not seeing which one did better. They were likely trying to see how to get both to get even business.
New shops would not necessarily sell more.
For instance, in an area with a lot of brand new sushi or ramen shops, the customers would all head to the one old-looking shop.
Their goal was to analyze that to the point of knowing the actual values involved rather than just the common knowledge so they could always gain that effect.
(Trying to figure out what their ulterior motives behind things are as you walk along can be kind of fun.)
However, she would be lying if she said she was not mainly trying to see if she could find a special Gekota you could not find elsewhere.
She could feel her destiny for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter that transcended probability theory.
Encountering that Gekota would be nice.
Mikoto looked around thinking about entering a random shop. She changed the AR setting so that it would display information on her surroundings as she looked around. Matching her gaze, the signs for various shops were displayed one after another on the wall.
Suddenly, Mikoto’s gaze froze.
The data for one of the many signs was in Japanese which was rare for that city.
It read: Snack and Souvenir Shop Nihon Daruma.
Mikoto had just been thinking of that city as a treasure trove of urban legends and then that showed up.
I have no intention of explaining in detail, but it is a rather famous story in Japan, so you should be able to easily find it by searching on the internet. However, it is a rather creepy story, so I do not recommend it. Do not look it up.
“…Are they trying to draw people in?”
It was a well-known rumor in Japan, so they may have looked it up on Japanese websites or the store may have had been opened by someone from Japan like a sushi or nabe restaurant.
However, even if it was shocking, the store won by catching people’s attention.
Mikoto was at a loss for words for a bit, but once the shock wore off, she started to get curious. For one thing, she had been wandering around that foreign city at night in hopes of finding something with some impact. Mikoto headed for the shop like she was being sucked in.
The door slid open.
The inside was odd, too. It was a lot like a Japanese convenience store. The clean and modern interior seemed unnatural. The shelves for the products were the same as a normal convenience store, but the products themselves were clearly different.
On the magazine racks were old books made of parchment with mysterious cursive writing in an unknown language.
Instead of plastic bottles in the glass door refrigerators covering one wall were bottles filled with a mysterious liquid as well as things like snakes and insects.
Next to the register where heat insulated containers for hot snacks would usually be were small dried heads of animals.
Nothing there was normal.
It could perhaps be described as occult.
Everything there would be laughed off as ridiculous if it was listed as a mail order product on the back cover of a manga magazine. However, with so many of them gathered and logically laid out within the store, there was a sense of unity to it all.
“Yah ho ho!”
The girl at the register gave a meaningless cry of greeting.
The girl was shorter than Mikoto but actually had breasts, so she annoyed Mikoto.
“Are you a tourist, miss? Well, I guess everyone in this city is a tourist. Although it’s rare for a Japanese girl to come in after seeing that sign. Are you starving for some stimulation?”
“What about you?” Mikoto said as she poked at something that looked like a crystal packed in plastic. “With that name and this design, I thought someone Japanese was running the store, but I guess I was wrong.”
The girl at the register had white skin and long black hair with just the ends braided. However, her eyes were blue and her skin color was not that of a normal Japanese person. She had the characteristics of a European, of an Anglo-Saxon.
Mikoto looked at the nametag on the girl’s chest that had her name written in hiragana.
“Yup, I’m Lessar-chan. We have all sorts of souvenirs. And don’t worry. Everything we have here won’t get you caught up at customs. So just loosen the purse strings.”
“You say that, but…”
Mikoto looked around the horrid convenience store again.
Instead of snack foods, dried bats wrapped in plastic were lined up.