"Welcome, table for one?"
As the waiter bowed respectfully, I replied that I was looking for someone, and swept my eyes across the vast expanse of the cafe.
From a window seat inside, a loud and unreserved voice immediately called me over.
"Hey Kirito-kun, over here!"
Elegant classical music circulated around the dining area, and the low chattering of pleasant conversation died down within a split-second as I entered, all eyes focused on me with criticism. Dressed in my old leather jacket and patched jeans, about 80% of the store -upper-class women taking a break from shopping- seemed to feel that I was in the wrong place; I felt resentment starting to swell up from deep within towards the person who asked me to come here.
If it were a sweet and attractive girl, I would have been able to put up with it, but unfortunately the hand waving at me belonged to a man in a suit. I didn't bother to conceal my displeasure and sat into the chair roughly with a 'dosun' sound.
A waiter emerged at my side to present me with a cool glass of water and a warm hand towel, along with the menu. As I picked up the elegant wooden and leather cover, a sunny voice expressed itself from across the table.
"It's my treat this time, so order whatever you like."
"I would have even if you didn't say that."
I retorted sharply and scrolled my eyes down the menu; shockingly, their cheapest item «Choux à la Crème» was already in the 1200 yen range, and I almost ordered a plain coffee by pure reflex. After remembering that this man was a highly paid bureaucrat, and that the cost of such entertainment would be covered as a business expense by hard-earned taxpayer money, I, who had nearly been taken for an idiot, calmly began ordering.
"Aah... I will have the parfait au chocolat... and a mille-feuille... and finally a hazelnut coffee."
Somehow, I had managed to say the entire order without biting my tongue despite having absolutely no idea what I had just ordered. The menu choices added up to three thousand nine hundred yen. I had considered asking for just a hamburger and shake, using the difference to line my pockets with.
"Very well, Sir."
Waiter-shi eloquently took his leave, and finally taking a breath, I looked up at the man, called Kikuoka Seijirou, as he ate a ginormous pudding stacked over a veritable mountain of fresh cream.
His face resembled your typical serious and strict Japanese language teacher, with his black frame glasses and tacky hair look. Despite not looking the part, he was indeed a Japanese government official. He belonged to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Technology, Second Separated Advanced Network Division, or, as it's called within the ministry, the Virtual Storage Management Sector of the Communication Network's Management Division; the «Virtual Division».
In other words, this man monitored the state of chaos in the new VR world, as an agent of the State... or a potential scapegoat. Normally, I would feel bad if he did get fired from his position, but in reality, I thought it was highly possible.
It is this unfortunate Kikuoka-shi who, having finally inhaled the last of the pudding into his mouth, looked up to reveal an innocent smile with pure bliss plastered over his face.
"Yah, Kirito-kun, sorry for calling you out on such short notice."
"If you feel any remorse then you should not have called me to Ginza in the first place."
"The fresh cream here is the best. Maybe I should get a Cream Puff while we're at it..."
While wiping my hands with the citrus scented towel, I let out a sigh and said:
"...and also, I don't think you have the right to call me 'Kirito'."
"That's so cruel ~~ wasn't I the first person by your side when you woke up a year ago?"
ー Unfortunately, that was a fact. Waking up after having escaped that «Death Game», the first person to visit was Kikuoka, the acting home-side agent of the counter-measure team, at my bedside.
Back then, I had used polite and courteous speech, as he had seemed well-meaning and genuinely concerned, but I soon realized that was not his only reason for getting close to me, and I started using a sharp tongued manner of speech. It could have been his intentions to exploit me from the start- but that might just be me over-analyzing things.
I glanced over to Kikuoka, who seemed distressed over the decision of placing yet another order, and opened my mouth after realizing that I should not let myself get caught in his pace.
"News has it that a huge deposit of rare metals was discovered at Sagami Bay, and the related big shots have organized a celebratory Oklahoma mixer dance. Don't be so troubled over just one cream puff."