“You want me to start from the beginning? Well, uh… I guess I should have known something was wrong as soon as someone named ‘FB100875’ slid into my DMs. I mean, it totally sounded like spam, but the link they attached was pretty interesting…”
—Kaiba Corporation Headquarters, Domino—
The trouble with Kaiba Corporation’s Japanese headquarters including a 75-storey tower meant that Mokuba Kaiba routinely had to wait several minutes for the elevator that would take him up to his—well, really Seto’s, since Mokuba never could tolerate sitting behind a desk for very long—office. Even the express elevator took its sweet time, since it went up to the top floor every morning when Seto arrived and stayed there until he left in the evening. And since it was already 8:27 a.m., that meant the elevator had been up for a while now.
The light above the elevator blinked: 56, 55, 54…
A pretty blue-haired girl—one of the Solid Vision techs, Mokuba remembered— kept glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, but when Mokuba made eye contact and smiled, she turned the color of a ripe tomato and dashed into the arriving staff elevator before the others inside even had a chance to disembark.
Ah, well. Big Brother would tell me I’m not supposed to flirt with the staff, anyway.
It was why twenty-four-year-old Mokuba Kaiba didn’t try squeezing his way onto the employee elevator, even though it had arrived before the express elevator even made it past the thirtieth floor. He just wasn’t in the mood for a lecture, and he was sure he would get one if he arrived in the office via the “wrong door.”
He wanted to resist opening Chirper on his phone, but Mokuba just couldn’t stop himself. It was the perfect solution to these precise moments, when all he needed was some kind of entertainment, a bit of gossip, maybe even some boring headlines....
Of all the social media networks Mokuba maintained himself—and there were precious few, since college and Seto insisted he turn any accounts over to the company’s PR team—Chirper was one of the last two. It was a toxic cesspool of misinformation and spam, Mokuba knew, but he just couldn’t help it. There were at least a few diamonds in the rough.
Just then, Mokuba got a direct message, the notification sound arriving in the form of a cute little “chirp” that gave the app its name. It came from the user ‘FB100875,’ and said only: Thought you would find this interesting.
Mokuba wasn’t familiar with anyone with the username ‘FB100875,’ but whoever they were, they were following him, even though Mokuba’s updates were sporadic, at best. The icon looked like the letters FB, drawn like they were from the title of some comic book or TV show title.
FB… FB.... Frank ‘n’ Beans? Finite Barium? Foot Ball?
Nothing came to mind.
Normally Mokuba would have just marked the message as spam and then moved on with his life, but the link attached to the message had a preview that caught his eye.
San Francisco, California, September 20, 20XX -- Industrial Illusions and Tenma Arts Co. will co-host a historic Art Auction, "MILLENNIUM," from October 8 to November 20, 20XX.
Mokuba didn’t know what to react to first: Industrial Illusions showing up in the news alongside what had to be some new private company of Pegasus’— come on, with a name like ‘Tenma’?! —or the tiny little preview image of what appeared to be the Blue-Eyes White Dragon in a gilt frame, surrounded by similar Duel Monsters paintings.
The elevator was still seventeen floors away. Mokuba clicked on the link.
MILLENNIUM is an online silent auction designed for easy participation. Featuring beautiful works spanning the history of creator Pegasus J. Crawford’s Duel Monsters trading card game and pieces from his private collection, there are pieces for everyone to enjoy, from casual players and fans to champion duelists and experienced art collectors.
True to its name, MILLENNIUM offers a record-breaking total of 1,000 lots, with the lowest bid beginning at just $300 USD. This auction’s highlights include limited print editions of previously championship-only card art variations such as the Black Magician and his apprentice, Black Magician Girl, as well as the original oil painting of the famous Blue-Eyes White Dragon…
There was more to the press release, but the words blurred in Mokuba’s eyes. He kept reading the same few words over and over: the original oil painting of the famous Blue-Eyes White Dragon…
A loud “ding!” shook him out of his reverie in time to step into the private elevator that would take him up to Seto’s 360º office on the top floor of Kaiba Corporation’s Domino HQ. His mind raced faster than the elevator as he scrolled through the remainder of the article. A thousand different pieces, ranging from classic Duel Monsters art to some of Pegasus’ more modern stuff, including an enormous panoramic mural and a series of avant garde-looking fashion portraits; a sealed bidding system to ensure bidder confidence…
Blah, blah, blah, how much is he putting up the Blue-Eyes for?
Several clicks later, Mokuba’s stomach nearly plummeted back to the ground floor.
No way… there’s no way…
Seto’s birthday was coming up, but for the price Pegasus was asking, there was no way Mokuba could get it for him on the sly. The valuation was over $10 million USD! It wasn’t that he didn’t have the money; he did, but if Mokuba was hoping to avoid lectures from Seto about all things Kaiba Corporation, spending a cool $10 million on a painting—even one bought as a birthday present—wouldn’t spare him the earful he’d be on the receiving end of for the next millennium.
But there was something off about all this, Mokuba thought as the elevator soared ever upward. Why co-host an art auction after all this time? Why put the Blue-Eyes original painting up for bidding, if he didn’t expect Seto himself to buy it? And what was with the timing? The auction was only weeks away at this point, which meant he didn’t have much time—
“Get your nose out of your phone, Mokuba,” Seto’s voice interrupted him. Mokuba blinked. He didn’t even realize the elevator had stopped and he’d arrived, the doors opening to reveal his haggard, nearly 30 (going on 50, judging by how haggard he looked) year-old brother, staring at him over his hands. Mokuba quickly shoved his phone into his pocket and made his way over to his brother’s desk, where he perched himself on the corner.
“Geez, and you lecture me about wearing a suit to work everyday,” Mokuba said, eyeing his brother. Seto’s custom suit jacket was thrown haphazardly over a nearby sofa, and the top two buttons of his shirt were undone. His tie was nowhere to be found.
Mokuba, on the other hand, arrived in a pale yellow dress shirt with a black-and-white diagonal striped tie, his black slacks secured to his slim hips with a slender black leather belt. He rarely bothered wearing his jacket, and often carried it over his shoulder just in case Seto insisted he put it on for some meeting with a corporate bigwig.
Seto’s only reply was a grunt, delivered halfway into his own hands as they continued to prop up his chin. He didn’t seem to be holding his head up so he could better examine anything on his monitor; if anything, he seemed to be doing his best to ignore whatever was on screen, judging by how long he kept his eyes—his puffy, shadowed eyes—closed.
“You look like shit, bro,” Mokuba told him frankly. “Did you even go home last night?”
“Language, Mokuba,” Seto chided him, but the usual fire wasn’t there.
“I’m not 10 years old anymore, you know,” Mokuba said. He pursed his lips and glanced sidelong at Seto’s dour expression. “But you can lecture me all you want about business and whatever. I’m here for that.”
Truthfully, as much as he hoped to avoid Seto droning on about business stratagems and reports, it seemed like those moments were the only time together they got. And if it made his brother happy somehow, Mokuba could handle it. After all, he’d secretly juggled getting his Master’s of Business Administration from New York University two years ago, while simultaneously “training” for the Kaiba Corporation Vice President position (even though he’d had the position –in name at least– since he was 10 years old) in San Francisco. He was an expert at “handling it,” no matter what “it” was.
Mokuba glanced up at the digital clock on the “media wall,” which featured no less than three widescreen OLED televisions constantly monitoring Kaiba Corporation’s social media accounts, mentions in the media, stock valuation, and the status of various ongoing projects. It was 8:35 a.m. By Seto’s standards, he was abysmally late.
“I’m sorry if I’m late,” Mokuba went on, jumping off the edge of the desk. “I needed a coffee, and I didn’t feel like being a jerk boss and cutting everyone in line at the stand downstairs.”
He didn’t mention that he’d spent a few minutes insisting the barista call him “Mokuba” and not write his name as “Kaiba-sama” on his cup, and that he’d polished off his entire drink while walking her to the employee break room so he could personally give Kaiba Corporation’s newest employee (that line was probably bullshit, but Mokuba didn’t care) the “need-to-know” for getting by at headquarters. It was basically just a few tips about getting around quickly, a motivational line or two, and an awkwardly long handshake.
“It’s fine,” Seto grumbled.
Mokuba frowned. Seto hadn’t sounded sarcastic, but Mokuba doubted he’d been totally sincere with his “it’s fine,” either.
“Bro, what’s up? Will you just talk to me already?” Mokuba knew they’d been drifting further apart over the years—it was just an inevitable part of growing up—but that didn’t mean either of them had to let that gap turn into a chasm.
They were supposed to be working together, after all, since Seto rarely gave him the leeway to do anything on his own. The last time he had, Mokuba had just turned 18 and was on his way to Stanford University in the United States to get a Computer Science degree. Seto had handed him access to his trust fund, containing a whopping one billion yen, telling him that it was all he was going to get until he graduated, and he better make good use of it.
Mokuba barely touched the fund at all during his accelerated college program; he’d opted to stay in the dorms and eventually rent an apartment with a few other guys to get the “full college experience.” He stayed Stateside throughout his “VP training,” getting his MBA on the sly by flying out to New York twice a week. It was there that he’d made full use of that trust fund money...and astonished Seto on Christmas almost three years ago, by handing him a check for a billion yen, claiming to have “not needed it,” and that Seto should re-invest it back into the company.
It wasn’t that Mokuba expected Seto would hand over the reins of Kaiba Corporation because of that stunt. Frankly, Mokuba didn’t want them! But...it would have been nice if Seto trusted him just a bit more with at least SOME project that didn’t need the CEO’s signature on it. Mokuba would have happily told Seto all the details of how he’d actually invested nearly every yen in the account only to recoup it in full (and then some) over a period of five and a half months, but Seto never asked. He’d said something along the lines of “you can do what you like,” and that was that.
“It’s the upcoming exhibition,” Seto groaned into his folded arms.
“You mean your gigantic birthday party?” Mokuba teased. “What’s going on with it? I thought everything was basically ironed out at this point.”
The upcoming event—held on October 25th, but was very much “not a birthday party,” according to Seto—involved basically every part of Kaiba Corporation. The company was launching a new Duel Disk, they were announcing the groundbreaking for a new Kaiba Land in Europe, this year was Duel Academia’s 10th anniversary, and they were due to reveal some of their plans for the upcoming 15th anniversary of Kaiba Land U.S.A.
Technically speaking, it was a worldwide event, since it was being simulcast for Kaiba Land U.S.A. and the various Duel Academias. But the local events were scheduled throughout Domino, with the exhibition match duels happening at Kaiba Land and the formal celebration commencing at the newest Kaiba Hotel downtown. It reminded Mokuba of Battle City, after a fashion, with the way Kaiba Corporation was “taking over the city.”
“It’s a month away and it seems like everything that could go wrong is going wrong. Every time I put out one fire, another one starts somewhere else. I can’t be in two places at once.”
“Who says you have to be the chief firefighter, bro?” Mokuba asked. “Give me something to do. Come on, you know I’m good for it.”
Seto raised his head, looking as exhausted as Mokuba had ever seen him. Forget having gone home last night; had he even slept? Despite the shadows encircling his eyes, Seto’s gaze remained as steady as ever.
“Fine,” he said after a breath. He nodded. “I need you to get in touch with our Industrial Illusions liaison, to make sure the new card data is finalized. We can’t have duelists trying the new Special Summoning method only for a glitch to show up on the field.”
Mokuba waited, but Seto didn’t add anything else.
“That’s it? Come on, bro, it’s me ! You know, your brother who graduated from Stanford a whole year early? Who got an MBA from NYU on the sly and returned the billion yen you gave me with interest?”
“You got that money on your 18th birthday and pulled that check stunt three years later,” Seto reminded Mokuba. “Nonetheless, to not spend any money over the course of your international college education is suspicious, to say the least. One of these days, we’re going to have an in-depth conversation about how you did that.”
“Name the time and place, bro, I’m an open book! But in the meantime, can you please give me something a bit more challenging than making a phone call across time zones?”
He’d still call Industrial Illusions, of course. If he could somehow charm his way up the phone tree and get in touch with Pegasus to ask about the painting, so much the better. But somehow Mokuba knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.
Seto raised an eyebrow. “You’re asking for work?”
Mokuba let out an exaggerated sigh. “It’s—” he looked at the clock again: 8:42 a.m. “It’s still the beginning of the day, I’m supposed to be your Vice President, and the extent of the work you want me to do is to wait twelve hours to make a phone call that’ll take me, at most, an hour, including hold time, transfers, and confirmation of the data?”
“Then you can confirm the attendance of all of the invited members of the Duelist Pro League. Get in touch with von Schroeder while you’re at it, since you’re so eager.”
“Make a phone call or three, check. And?”
“You’re going to regret this, Mokuba,” Seto said as he ran a hand through his already-mussed hair. “Here.”
He flicked his fingers over his virtual keyboard; seconds later, Mokuba’s phone made a soft “ping!”
Mokuba scrolled through the list and nodded at each item. “Okay, okay, so all of these were on your personal to-do list? And all these deadlines for within the next month are accurate?”
“Yes, Mokuba. If you can handle even five of those…” The relief it would no doubt bring Seto went unspoken.
“No problem. But I have a condition,” Mokuba added, the gears in his head turning. He could make this work to his advantage, but he’d have to get Seto to agree.
“Yeah. You have to take the next week off work. Completely. No phones, no computers, no nothing. Go up to the mountains. Soak in a hot spring or something. Or at the very least get some fresh air and sleep for a few days straight.”
“That’s ridiculous Mokuba—”
“That’s my offer, take it or leave it. I can always go back down to Solid Vision and have a nice long chat with that girl… Miri or Mirai, I think. She’s pretty cute. Or that barista from earlier—she really knows how to make a great latte, Seto, you should try it sometime—”
“All right, all right! I’ll take a damned vacation. One. Week. That’s it. And no flirting with the staff while I’m away or EVER.”
“You make it sound like I’m asking you to get an appendectomy, bro,” Mokuba said, staring his brother down until Seto got up and started finding the missing pieces of his suit scattered hither and thither.
“...I don’t remember the last time I took a vacation,” Seto said quietly. “I could never afford it.”
“Bullshit,” Mokuba snapped, wheeling on his brother. “We’ve been profitable for almost fifteen years.” He started ticking items off on his fingers, “Oh, and you bought an entire city for a day. You had a blimp with a duel arena on top. You had a private jet specially constructed in the shape of a Blue-Eyes White Dragon—”
“That was your idea, if you recall,” Seto interjected.
Mokuba’s cheeks reddened slightly. “So what? Doesn’t change the fact that us ‘affording’ anything has never been an issue.” He bit his lip. He wanted to say something more, to point out that his brother seemed to work all the time instead of ever taking a second to sort through his feelings. But what could Mokuba do, tell Seto to check into a mountain rehab with an onsite therapist?
“It was just an expression, Mokuba.”
Mokuba grumbled. “You still need a vacation.”
“And I’ll take one.”
“Starting right now?” Mokuba countered.
Seto stared out the tinted glass separating his office from the reception area where Isono’s desk sat. He pushed a button on his phone and waited for his executive assistant’s crisp reply.
“Isono, forward any meetings or deadlines I have scheduled this week to Mokuba. Anything that he can’t handle, cancel it.” Seto paused. “I’m going on vacation.”
“Sir?” Through the tinted glass, Mokuba saw Isono jolt at Seto’s unexpected pronouncement. No doubt he’d want an explanation as soon as Seto was gone. Mokuba would have winked at the man, but there was no way Seto could see him through the glass without his nose having been pressed against it.
If I can get Seto out of here in the next few minutes, maybe I can get Isono to help me get in touch with Pegasus....
But no, Isono was a company man through and through. There was no way Mokuba could ask him to keep a secret like this from Seto. It wasn’t that Isono gossiped or anything; he’d just served as Seto’s executive assistant for far longer than he had Mokuba, and he was used to following Seto’s protocols for everything, and that included CC’ing emails, logging access to certain databases and devices….
I won’t be able to ask anybody at Kaiba Corp for help, then! Mokuba realized. Even if he demanded Seto “take it easy,” his brother was such a workaholic that Mokuba would bet his Vice President title that Seto would check his email at least once over the next week.
More like once an hour, Mokuba thought with a grimace. But when Seto turned to put the phone down and look at his brother, Mokuba quickly schooled his face into a mask of neutrality.
“That will be all, Isono.” And then Seto hung up, like he always did.
Seto finally put his wrinkled suit jacket on and took a begrudging step toward the private elevator. “You’re sure about this?”
“Bro, I’ve been your VP since I was a kid. I’ve been there for almost all of the big deals, all of the huge events. I can handle this.” Mokuba believed every word he was telling Seto. He didn’t have any intention of being Seto while acting as interim CEO or acting CEO or whatever his title technically was now, but he could accomplish the same goals, no problem.
And I can handle getting that Blue-Eyes painting, too!
“...All right. Then I won’t wish you ‘good luck’,” Seto responded.
“I don’t need luck, I have skill!” Mokuba laughed, quoting his brother from ages ago. Seto only rolled his eyes and disappeared into the elevator.
“Famous last words and all, I guess. I mean, I didn’t expect it would be easy to convince Pegasus not to auction off the painting, but I didn’t expect this... .”