I sat up abruptly and looked around my surroundings.
‘Oh god, what time is it?!’
The blinding sunray in my eyes was self-explanatory. As I darted towards my trusty alarm clock, the realization of waking up ahead of time hit me.
‘6:30 am. Wow.’ I woke up an hour ahead. Pleased with this mini achievement, I headed to the bathroom.
‘I have to admit, I look pretty dashing,’ I thought to myself as I scrutinized my reflection in the mirror. Dramatically, I slipped on the sleeves and pant legs of my uniform.
“Ryohei, Associate Engineer, CEI HQ,” I repeated in my best announcer voice while pinning my name tag to my brand new uniform.
‘Oh, no time for breakfast.’ While it wasn’t too difficult to pass the exp exam, I was determined to make a great first impression. The last thing I’d want was to be late on my very first day of work.
‘Ikimasu!’ I slammed the door behind me and activated my space storage inventory.
‘Starburst. $ANIMA,’ These recurring thoughts clouded my mind as I sat on my limited banner mount.
‘Thank goodness for my Venarites, no more taking the public transport for Ryohei! Huhuhu.’ Snapping back to reality, I started wondering how it all came together. Since I was a little child, I’ve asked incessantly to no avail. Beyond ‘It just works!’ and ambiguous answers, no one could really explain how the two entities came together.
‘No matter, today would be the day I discover these mysteries,’ I nodded to myself as my mount smoothly came to a stop.
The words ‘CENTRAL ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE’ (CEI) loomed in front of me as I slowly lifted my gaze.
The CEI building was as mystical as it sounded. Situated right in the middle of Anime Metaverse, it commanded a mighty presence, and its shining exterior was reminiscent of a bright star.
‘Let’s do this!’ I pumped my fist to no one in particular and took large strides towards the entrance.
“Minna-san! Please remember to scan your name tags against the Meta-o-Matic detector! Do not enter the building without a valid tag!” The cute Soul Warden with the letter “H” on her name tag called out cheerfully into the megaphone. Somehow, I felt a sense of unease, and I instinctively reached for my name tag.
After a momentary ‘Beep!’, my details presented itself holographically, and the green light symbolized my approved entry.
“Ohaiyo Gozaimasu! Welcome to CEI’s employee orientation session! Let’s start with our morning exercises before we commence a tour of the-” the chirpy voice of the employee in the video was cut off by a grunt.
“Geez. What a waste of time. They really expect us to do these kindergarten stunts?”
As I turned my head towards the source of the comment, I couldn’t help but notice a faint, dark purplish aura emanating from his back. I silently noted Takehiro’s name tag in my mind as I rubbed my eyes again. Strangely, the aura was gone.
After completing the orientation video, we were led into the grand hall. The interior of the CEI building stoked the embers of inquisitiveness in me. Starry-eyed, I marveled at the sight. It was a bustling place of activity! The clickety-clack of the buttons, mechanical groans of levers, and shuffling of feet echoed through the hall as similarly dressed employees hurried through their day.
“The monitors. So many of them. Where do I even start to look?” I used to think the number of monitors at the Meta Stock Exchange Market was overwhelming, but this was on a whole different level. Squinting my eyes, I vaguely made out activity levels and what looked to be videos of everyday citizens displaying on the monitors.
“You must be my new kohai! O.HAI.YO. GO.ZAI.MASU!” I jumped in shock and stood to attention immediately.
“O..o.. HAIYO GAZIMASU, SENPAI!” I blurted out in an attempt to mimic the confident voice of my senpai, ‘obviously meek in comparison.’
“First of all, congratulations on making the ranks of Engineers! We have been blessed with a sacred duty. Our world and its very fiber depend on us!” Before I could respond, I found myself trailing after Senpai as he strode ahead.
“Behold! The CEI is the core of the Anime Metaverse! Since the discovery of Starburst, our ancestors have painstakingly cultivated and researched its many properties. Through many centuries of experimentation and hard work, we developed the CEI to ensure its safeguarding and functionalities.” While listening to his explanation, I looked up towards the ceiling and right in the center – the giant, floating transparent dome which contained the crystallite Starburst. From where I was, the dome appeared to extend beyond the ceiling and reached the heavens.
‘Vast. Endless.’ These were the words that came to my mind as I stared in awe. With the numerous silk-like threads linked to the dome, I couldn’t help but picture a giant shining cocoon. The pulsing ray of lights caught my eye.
“Yes Ryohei, what you see are activity neurons, transmitted through the neural networks of the citizens. Everyone’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are circulated through the CEI’s network.”
“E..even when we’re asleep?” I asked.
“Exactly. Picture it in this way. Do you stop breathing when you sleep? No. It’s an ongoing process for all citizens! After the emergence, our ancestors discovered the Starburst crystal’s reactivity to our emotions. With the evolution of our technology, we have further refined its synchronicity.”
It suddenly hit me. The auras and glows. The instantaneous system messages for our $ANIMA balances. Our thoughts, emotions, and actions were all interconnected to the CEI. My eyes trailed off while following the pulsating lights.
“Onwards to the $ANIMA vault!” Senpai’s voice boomed again as he marched off in perfect form. As we descended down the building in the elevator, the unmistakable sound of rolling coins rumbled closely. A pair of magnificent-looking steel-reinforced doors greeted us as the elevator doors opened. Straining with great effort, Senpai maneuvered the giant steel doors open after inputting what seemed to be a number combination.
“I have never seen so much $ANIMA in my life!” Pools of $ANIMA rolled into the vault from the uncountable silk-like tubes. However, just as fast as they were rolling in, a good portion of them defractionalized into thin air.
Noticing my puzzled expression, Senpai explained: “If you recall, after finishing an awesome Karaoke session with your friends, $ANIMA appears almost immediately in your space storage inventory? Yes, the purification of the Starburst into $ANIMA and redistribution is happening in real-time, right down to microseconds! The source of all $ANIMA balances and bank deposits lead back to this very vault in front of us.”
After Senpai’s spirited explanation, I realized the grave importance of the CEI. Its numerous algorithms were crucial in processing every single transaction in the Anime Metaverse. From mundane daily to life-altering transactions, they were all powered by the CEI and its algorithms.
“Everyone, let’s have a 15 minute break before I brief you on your duties!” Senpai boomed, yet again. My curiosity resurfaced again as I wandered off into the halls.
Graduations. Job promotions. Marriages. Celebrating the arrival of newborns. I witnessed the familiar golden aura glow of the citizens through the monitors. This is it. This was exactly what I yearned for. To make a difference in not just my life, but to the world. Those smiles, those precious emotions, it was my sacred duty to protect them. While wiping tears from my eyes, I could not help but notice a dark corridor in the distance.
Unlike the others, a deep hue of purple illuminated this corridor. Beyond the passageway, a menacing locked door with the sign halted my advance: “DANGER: NEWLY RECRUITED ENGINEERS, DO NOT ENTER!!” in bold font. The erratically plotted bar charts and line graphs on the sole monitor reminded me of a rollercoaster ride. An uncomfortable feeling of dread enveloped me as I instinctively took a step backwards.
“RYOHEI! GET OVER HERE! YOU SHOULD NOT BE THERE!” Senpai’s voice brought me out of my stupor and I rushed over hurriedly.
“S…sorry Senpai! I did not realize that area was out of bounds!” Not wanting to incur Senpai’s wrath, I scurried away after stealing one last glance at the door.