MIND DIVE 1.5’: CRAM SCHOOL
Summer 202X, Afternoon
Zhuyu, finished with his classes for the day, returned back to his apartment. He ascended up to the sixth floor and noticed a woman standing in the hallway. The man ignored her and proceeded toward his apartment.
“Long!” the woman called out, rushing over to his side.
“Who are you?” he responded, adjusting his glasses.
“Are you serious, Long? Come on!” the woman removed her sunglasses and moved closer to him.
Zhuyu blinked before finally recognizing her. He sighed and unlocked the door, letting her enter. She flashed him a smile and bounded in with excitement.
“Your fashion sense still is bad as always, Long,” she commented, pulling out a dining chair to sit in.
“Konoe, is that all you have to say?” Zhuyu unbuttoned his gray wool vest, a white short sleeve dress shirt underneath.
“So rude, Long! How have you been? It’s been a few years since you left,” Felicity remarked, accepting a cup of tea from the man.
“Classes are tough but that’s how it is here. I’ve been tutoring undergraduates during my free time. What are you doing here anyways?” Zhuyu checked the tea leaves in the pot.
“Business but also I have a proposition for you. I know you’re almost done with your program and you’ll be looking for a job. It happens that I have one for you back home,” Felicity revealed, pulling out material from her bag.
Zhuyu read through the pamphlets and flipped through the hand-written notes within the woman’s notebook. It was an interesting proposition, starting a cram school which contrasted with the standard test preparation centers and tutoring services. While they would offer those traditional services, it was meant as a true supplement with potential students attending everyday after school and on weekends too. In addition, she highlighted it would target first and second year university students too.
“It’s intriguing,” Zhuyu commented after reading through all her plans.
“That’s it? You have an issue with it,” Felicity said, noticing the man’s serious expression.
“I appreciate that you would allow me to head the in-house curriculum and become the head instructor. But, I don’t think it’s the right fit for me right now. I love teaching math and helping students out with the more nuanced side of it. I’m still thinking if I want to pursue the educational path. Sorry, Konoe,” Zhuyu explained.
“I see. Well, take your time, Long. If you change your mind, call me. I would love to have you at the company,” Felicity said, sliding her business card over to him.
“Before you leave, how’s Yuki?” Zhuyu questioned.
“She’s doing well. There aren’t any signs of her waking up from the coma. Don’t worry, the Shakai Group will make sure Yuki will be taken care of!” Felicity promised with a determined expression.
After chatting, the woman departed, disappointed she couldn’t convince Zhuyu. The man poured himself another cup of tea, glancing at pamphlet Felicity left behind for him. He appreciated her effort to start a cram school with not just a focus on school material but also provide skills outside of the academic environment. However, he worried about the influence the Shakai Group would exert on the business, his main reason for declining.
“What would you think about all of this, Tess?” Zhuyu muttered, jangling a ring of keys in the air.
MIND DIVE 1.5’ END
I sat up in my bed. Those two mind dives felt more restrictive than my usual ones. It was locked into a fixed perspective with occasional insight from Zhuyu himself. Was this what happened when mind dives occurred here? I knew the heroes were concerned about me, but didn’t know they were actively searching for a way to pull me out of the coma, especially Zhuyu out of all people. They were quite caring. Now that I spent more time with them, these kinds of things made more sense. His attitude toward Felicity was perplexing. Just what did the Shakai Group do that he was so against them? I yawned and closed my grimoire shut. Time to deal with more s*** tomorrow.
Hospital, Next Day
“It’s lucky your mom isn’t here today,” the math professor remarked.
“Yo Long, I got the report you…,” Jacque’s voice trailed off upon seeing me.
“I’m here again. Good to see you, Jacque,” I greeted him.
Jacque handed him a folder. Zhuyu opened it, perusing through the papers, and then tucked the materials underneath his right arm. I noticed a woman wearing a long sleeved polo approach us. She wore a black business skirt, the length of it just above her knees. Her emerald necklace matched her hazel-green eyes.
“Detective Lyra. What brings you here today?” Zhuyu questioned with a flat tone.
Lyra… oh, Ichaival’s wife who was an investigator. I didn’t remember if she worked for the government or was a private contractor. Either Zhuyu didn’t care for her or was just indifferent. He adopted that attitude with me at times.
“You two have frequently visited Tomo Yuki and Machi Mirei. Have you learned anything new?” Lyra asked.
“I’m sure we’re reading the same things as you are,” Zhuyu replied.
“You’re right. I apologize for my tone. I’ve been assigned to this case and haven’t found any new leads. It must be tough with Tomo and Machi like this. It’s just… I know there’s something more to it!” Lyra apologized.
“We’ll be sure to contact you if we find anything out. I’m pretty sure Darryl can tell you just as much as we can. He knew Yuki too,” Zhuyu said.
“Darryl’s been a great help, but I thought it might be better to ask other people as well. I hoped Mrs. Tomo might be here today,” Lyra explained.
“We’ll definitely keep you updated if anything changes,” Zhuyu said, his facial expression indicating this was the end of the conversation.
Lyra glanced at me, her eyes narrowing. Ah crap, if she was investigating me, she saw my picture before. Zhuyu maintained his stoic expression, revealing nothing. A ping came from Jacque’s phone and the graphic artist walked off to the side.
“You’re really familiar. Who is this girl?” Lyra questioned, taking out her phone and staring at me.
“Ah, she’s one of Jacque’s relatives, currently enrolled at the university I teach at. She’s pursing a career in medicine. They offer internships and shadowing opportunities here for university students. Jacque and I planned to visit Yuki today anyways so it worked out perfectly. We thought it was a good idea of give her a quick tour especially since their research facilities are nearby. Of course, this is one of the top-ranked hospitals in the area, so many graduates do their residence here,” Zhuyu fabricated, no awkward pauses or hesitation during his lie.
“Jacque’s relative?” Lyra glanced at us with suspicion, staring down at her screen.
“Yeah, pretty amazing, right? One of my friends actually knows one of the doctors here and is acquainted with one of the board members too. You know of Kaisi Konoe, right?” Zhuyu continued his false backstory for me.
“I’ve heard a lot about her from Darryl,” Lyra confirmed.
“You probably did. Kaisi was gunning pretty hard there for Darryl, but then you swooped in. It’s amazing how things change. Darryl is a lucky man,” Zhuyu said, glancing at his watch.
I don’t know how the hell Zhuyu exhibited such confidence during this conversation. I didn’t mind though. He flipped his personality around, speaking with conviction when he was silent moments ago.
“Long, we ready to go? I was hoping we might run into Kristoph at the shop,” Jacque asked, pointing up at the clock.
“Sounds like a plan. Sorry Lyra, we gotta go. You know how to contact us, just ask Darryl!” Zhuyu walked away.
Lyra didn’t look convinced. However, she didn’t pursue the issue, letting us leave. I heaved a sigh of relief, glad we managed to escape out of that dangerous situation.
“Ichaival’s fiancé is really perceptive. I don’t think she was fooled,” I remarked.
“It’s not great she’s trying to figure out if there was anything more to your coma. I’m hoping Darryl stalls. Her pride as an investigator won’t let her just give up,” Zhuyu agreed.
“What should we do, Long?” Jacque inquired about our next steps.
“I was hoping to have Yuki visit herself again. However, Lyra’s still there and I don’t want to risk it. Let’s wait it out for now. Yuki, are you hungry?” Zhuyu asked.
I nodded. Zhuyu decided we would eat at Kristoph’s shop, as Jacque suggested before. I was a bit excited about this. What was Kristoph like in the future? He appeared lost whenever I saw him, especially after midterms and exams. I’m sure he picked it up and achieved success.
“Hey Meng, did you need something?” Zhuyu answered a call.
Jacque drove today. The math professor nodded every few seconds and even laughed. Things definitely changed but some things remained the same.
“What did Meng want?” Jacque questioned.
“He wanted me to check some math the firm he’s working with gave him. I’ll get a copy of it tomorrow. We also talked some sports, but you don’t care about that,” Zhuyu replied.
“I remember Ichaival saying he was collaborating with Tai on a project. Is that the same one he’s asking your advice on?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m not sure what they’re designing. Only thing I know is that part of the project is funded by Konoe’s company. Darryl’s the lead engineer so the responsibility is on him. He has an entire team to check on all of these things. I’m just doing it since Meng trusts me,” Zhuyu answered.
Jacque entered a small parking lot, the space between cars minimal. My expectations weren’t shattered, but I had hopes for something more fancy. This was fine though. I didn’t care as long as the food tasted delicious.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.