5 of 6 | Chapter 9


“Yes, yes. That's exactly what I told myself. Well … I did, up until the moment that I noticed someone following me. Wherever I went, if I deliberately looked for him, I usually managed to spot a specific man after a few moments.”

“What did Steersman say?”

“He confirmed that everything was exactly as I felt it to be. These aren't coincidences and we must take them seriously. I had to come back straight away. He wanted to provide one of his bodyguards for me, but with that, I wouldn't be able to pass through any airport security, so he wishes to secure an airplane too for my use,” said Hashimoto.

“I see,” said Karen, “and what kind of reception has PrEUST had so far?”

“Very promising. Very promising indeed. ASEC agents are present in every significant higher educational institution. Students are now giving a great deal of credibility to our promises which are effective, to say the least. To study in the city that launched the GlideCraft is, for any young student interested in a scientific or technology career, a highly important step,” said the professor.

“That's not an unfounded sentiment. ASEC would only break their promises as an absolute last resort. That's something I believe unflinchingly,” said Karen frowned slightly.

“Many of my colleagues think the same. Those whom I've visited will all take this opportunity. It's an amazing career, a new life in a developing and prosperous city, safety for the whole family. These days, these things are not commonly found in the rest of the world.”

“But there's something bothering you though, right?” Karen asked, feeling that something had been left unsaid.

“To manage Tokyo university and teach there carries a tremendous respect, not only in Japan but in the rest of the world. This was the peak of my own career. I was working in a very honored position.”

“And now?”

“PrEUST means more than that because of how others in the world relate to it. This position has power, and with that power comes much responsibility and, of course, pressure. The whole world is following what happens here.”

“I don't wish to suggest that your fears are groundless,” said Karen, after a slow breathe in. “But isn't it you who is in the habit of saying that, if you could, you would change the balance of power? Isn't the current state of affairs unequal and unhealthy?”

“Yes, of course.”

“This is an opportunity for you to be part of the process. It's true that perhaps another centralization of power is emerging, but the ASEC will not abuse it, turning it into self gain, or even worse, ruining other people.”

“How can you be so sure of that, Karen?”

“I know the person who leads it all. A company is as good or bad as its leader. If I remember correctly, it is also one of your maxims.”

“I don't have enough information to question ASEC's motives, but what is sure now is that the events taking place are undoubtedly reassuring signs of that. I gotta admit that I didn't think that upcoming change would make me even more careful.”

“I know, I feel the same many times,” Karen joked quietly.

“What I'm certain of is that, by working together, we will get through this more easily.” Hashimoto took Karen's arm and squeezed it reassuringly.

“I am sure of it, Professor.”

“I must say that this building is amazing. I don't know how they expect me to look over everything at once. It's impossible!”

“That's why a suitable system will be at your disposal. Furthermore, an army of staff will be here to assist you with administration. The rest of it will be the same as the University of Tokyo.”

“I've read about the equipment: each student will receive an individual learning plan, have their own InCar for transport within the building and an internal communication biocom, a private study room, and most importantly to developing young minds, unlimited meals.” The professor winked. “In addition to that, there's unlimited number of sports facilities, the use of laboratories, ASEC units for practice and access to databases for scientific work,” he finished listing.

“And those are just the highlights,” added Karen smiling. “When students enter here everything, right down to the last tiny details, will be taken care of.”

“It's indeed very impressive.”

“Of course, the entrance standards here are not a piece of cake though. Students receive everything from us so that they can invest all of their energy into personal development, but in return, they must prove their competence to us every day. Those who are not capable of doing so, no matter who they are or what their excuse is, will be expelled. There'll be hundreds, or even thousands, lined up to take their place.”

“Yes, that's right.”

“Professor,” said Karen seriously. “I can assure you that Mr Steersman would never allow any negative influence to get to you or to your family just because you accepted the position of director at PrEUST.”

“I know that.” The professor smiled.

“That reminds me, when is your family coming?” asked Karen.

“Well, this is not that easy for them. My wife has to stay with her family for the moment, and my parents do not wish to leave Japan.”

“Oh, I see. I'm sorry to hear that. Of course, as far as their safety is concerned, the distance should not be a problem …”

“Karen, there's no need for them to be guarded as nothing will go wrong for them. They will live their lives as they have until now, and all Sakime needs is time to come to terms with the changes.”

“All right.”

“Can we take a look inside as well?” asked Hashimoto looking at the building.

“Yes, of course. We'll certainly take a look at your office too.” Smiled Karen.


The secluded sector

The reality of ASEC's global presence was colored by misty obscurity and amazement mixed with awe. In most cases, only speculation on the circumstances of its operation came to light, as not a single person who worked there was permitted to make a press statement or say anything, even to their friends and family, about it. The security of the place was ranked amongst the highest in the world.

Protection against unauthorized access—in addition to the robot squads that were deployed throughout the area—was the responsibility of the newly created ‘Immediate Reaction Defense’ units, which responded immediately in the case of any attacks or breaches of security at the ASEC center, including any information leaks that might infringe on their operational integrity. The IRD had the latest in high tech tools for covert observation, and were required to carry out their operations absolutely undetected. They did not exert pressure on anyone, neither did they disturb day to day lives. Their team leader was commander Murinko who, in his army career, had mostly led military reconnaissance squads. What had made him famous in military circles was the incredibly high expectations that he had of his men and that, at the same time, his forces never seemed to suffer additional losses during missions he led.

Sean Steersman took potential dangers—that could lead to disruption in the function of the organization—more and more seriously. He had had no tangible reasons thus far to do so, but the news that kept coming in was painting a disturbing picture of the unsettling events that were beginning to unfold.

In the science center's second manufacturing plant, his ongoing work took place in the shadow of these ominous signs. The Sector Two—that was accessible through the western corridor—was classified as off limits, even within the ASEC; the area was not to be approached by anyone, even those who were otherwise regarded to be in the highest circle of security.



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