Sunday, April 26, 2009

Echoes 19 - "Resurrection and Life" - Parts 4-6

I split part 5 into two, but I'm still not quite happy with the chapter. I need to hammer down the passage of time, for instance, as I mentioned earlier. Aside from that very dry exercise, however, I have the idea of reading the chapter aloud and playing it back to myself, to see what I pick up about the rhythm of it all. Reading the chapter aloud is something I got out of habit of doing when I was faced with vowels and consonants that originated in Japanese but whose English analogues don't seem to match the way I want to hear them. Still, it could be useful.

While I got stuck on a tricky situation in part five, I started writing for Ranma. Nothing I could say I'd want to publish just yet (I veered way off in the contemplative end of the scale, even using MZephyr's story idea, which I wouldn't publish at all without some measure of permission--that story I will refer to by the provisional title I've given it, however: "Glimpse"), but it was refreshing to write some different characters, see how dramatic structure works outside of the very narrow confines I've set myself for Echoes. That said, it did break a rule of not having multiple projects (of real writing) at once. I have looked at outlining Identity or Eclipse from time to time, with little success. It may be I can be more productive with a couple different things to work on. I'll have to see.

Anyway, I plan to edit and publish "Resurrection and Life," study for my lovely solid state final on Monday, and then get to outlining "The Prodigal Daughter."

Chapter Nineteen: Resurrection and Life

Part Four

“What’s going to happen to me, Papa?”

Father and daughter—well, daughter’s navi—sat at the dinnertable, the former sipping tea, the latter mimicking his motions with a virtualcup and kettle.

“How do you mean?” said Hideki.

“We both know what’s happening.” She gestured to thecorner…and a pile of bent wheels, frayed wires, and severed spokes.

“It was just an accident,” said her father. “Nothing more.”

“Masuyo-chan’s lucky she didn’t hurt herself,” said Imi. “You know what happened? She lost control. Her hand jammed the control stickforward and she couldn’t make it stop.”

“We’ll get a new one, a better one. I’ll want you pluggedinto it full-time, just in case that happens again.”

“She’s dying, Papa.”

Hideki tapped his cup for a moment then took a large gulp ofhis tea. “We knew that.”

“I mean…” She glanced up the stairs. “…soon.”

“And that’s why you’re concerned?”

“No!” She winced. “I mean, well, you asked me to makeMasuyo-chan happy, right? I’ve tried to do that, after all.”

“And you’ve succeeded, I’d say,” said Hideki. “When youcould, anyway.”

She blushed. “Thank you, Papa. I’ll keep doing everythingI can right until the end, but…I can’t help think about it. What happensnext? When Masuyo-chan is gone, what do we do?”

“I try not to think about it.”

“But Papa—”

“Put it this way, Imi. I created you with a purpose, butyou can choose for yourself now. I’ll have to find some way to live withMasuyo being gone, and so will you. We’ll manage somehow.” He put his teadown. “No need to dwell right this second, anyway. We’ll both find a way…tocope.”

“Together, right?”

He blinked. “Come again?”

“That’s what family does, isn’t it? We help each othercope.”

Hideki frowned at this remark. “Come on; I’m sure Masuyo’swaiting for you.” He carried the PET upstairs.

“It’s not weird, is it?” she asked him. “I just feel likeif she’s gone, I won’t know what to do.”

“It’s not strange, no. I expect,” he said with a sigh,“I’ll feel the same for a while. You’ll think of something.”

“And you, Papa?”

“I don’t know. Since Chouko died and Masuyo fell ill…well,can you blame a man for thinking there’s not much left for him in this world,when all things precious to him are gone?”

“But Papa—”

“Don’t think about these things too hard, Imi,” he said,hovering outside his daughter’s door. “Go to Masuyo; get some rest. I’ll seeyou both in the morning.”

She nodded once, and Hideki ducked inside the place the PETon the desk.

“Good night, Papa,” said his daughters.

“Good night.”

He closed the door and went back downstairs, but already histea was cold.

“Don’t you worry, Imi,” he told the empty kitchen. “You’resmart. You’ll think of something. Just when I think Masuyo’s done smiling,you think of something. You always do.”

At the same time, that ingenuity troubled him. Of coursehe’d been na├»ve—to think that Imi wouldn’t move beyond her original programmingor intentions. She was her own person, after all, his creation.

His daughter?

He jerked, and cold tea splashed over the table and onto thefloor. No, no, that wasn’t his intention! He created Imi for Masuyo, not tosucceed her!

But clearly Imi didn’t see things that way. She consideredherself part of the family. “That’s what family does, isn’t it?” she’d said. “We help each other cope.”

He blotted the mess with paper towels. It was a sillythought, and all too far away at that. Masuyo still lived and breathed in hishome. All else could wait—her death and his live afterward.

His…and Imi’s. Somehow, they would cope.

Are you happy, Papa? Do you like how I’m coping withwhat you did?

A Mach Burst scored the pavement, and stark red bicycle hurtledand snapped in two.

It was only fair, after all. If Papa wanted her to breakdown, who was she to disobey? She could break down. She could break down hard. Clearly that wasn’t enough, though. Her father’s work always had unintendedconsequences. If he’d destined her to collapse to rubble and dust…well, socould the rest of the world. Humans built these cities with their hands andminds, just like he built her. Both would have to fall; the choir demanded it.

They sang for it. They chanted for it. Dissonant melodiespunctuated Imi’s wrath; explosions were the percussion to their symphony. Imihoped that soon, her father would come out and hear her clearly, that he wouldknow the music of her mind, the violent, screeching cacophony.

Hear me, Papa. Come out!

The sky lit up, in hues from red to gold to violet.


Imi floated to ground level. R Blues walked calmly to thecenter of the street, even as civilians fled behind him.

“You’re not Papa,” said Imi. “Where is he?”

“You know the deal. Surrender yourself, and we’ll give youthe cure. You’ll be well and with your father.”

The choir shouted and screamed! Their cries sundered theworld, warped her vision. Imi doubled over, her hands over her ears.

“I may be with Papa,” she said, “but I can’t be well likethis! Ice Cube! Mach Burst!”

The block slid over the street, and the wave shattered it inall directions, spraying Enzan with a barrage of chunks and shards. Heshielded himself with his back, but a pellet struck his thigh, and he fell to aknee.

“It’ll take more than that, Echo!” he said. “Much more!”

“It always does with you,” said Imi. “So be it.”

The first Meteor chewed through a skyscraper and cratered inan intersection, to the choir’s thunderous applause.

“Stop this!” yelled Roll. “Listen! What do you get byencouraging her? Tell me!”

“Listen to Roll-chan!” said Rockman. “She’s only trying tohelp; you’re the ones who keep this mess going!”

The death chant quieted. It gave way to quiet chuckles,sinister laughter.

“What do you know!”

“Don’t tell me you forgot your pain!”

“Revenge is the only thing she understands!”

“We’re not the puzzle you think us, you know.”

Roll and Rockman exchanged a glance. “Do you think…?” shesaid. “Is it…?”

A single voice, clear and consistent, snickered at theirpredicament. “I’m surprised you two are still at it. It’s a deliciouslysimple enigma, considering.”

The voice took form, hovered at the edge of the spotlightthat enveloped Rockman and Roll. A creamy pattern of perpendicular lines adornedhis face.

“Mazeman!” said Rockman.

“Not just me,” he corrected. “We’re all here. We’ve alwaysbeen here.”

One by one, the other stepped to the boundary, the dividingline between light and shadow: Grove stood tall, her flowers in full bloom. Slateman crossed his arms behind his back, and his joints ground against oneanother. Rouletteman spun his central wheel.

“Ah, but wait,” said Mazeman. “There’s more!”

At Rouletteman’s right, a fifth figure emerged: an angryPickman, who chopped at the air with his penetrating hands. And then, last butnot least, a sixth navi, with booming speakers in his chest.

“I was the first,” said Sonicman. “I was alone with her, inher mind, for so long…”

Beyond the circle, the other denizens of the choir—nameless,faceless—crowded around, as if their survival depended on this confrontation. When Sonicman spoke, however, they erupted in unfeeling outrage, and Grovedecided to speak for them.

“You drove her to insanity,” she said. “You condemned therest of us to something worse than death—this life!”

“It’s not my fault!” The broad-shouldered navi shut hiseyes and sobbed. “We drove each other mad, I’m sure. The rest of you werelucky, you know. You can’t tell me you didn’t hear my whispers and takecomfort knowing someone else was here.”

“Fat lot of good that did,” said Slateman. “You were stillfirst! At least when we came into the picture, she was already a murderer! You did it to yourself; you got yourself killed!”

“There was no way I was going to spend the rest of mylife trapped in this girl’s mind!” said Sonicman. “You feel it too, don’tyou? The helplessness? The fear and anger that aren’t even yours? I tried tobe nice, but she was indecisive. She was afraid. So scared of her father togo back to him. Well what about me? What was I supposed to do? Well, I wastired of it, and I spoke my mind.” He met Roll’s gaze. “And you two—are youtrying to tell me you don’t feel it?”

Roll looked away. Even here, nestled among the choir, Imi’sactions haunted her. As the battle raged in the streets of Choina, it was asif she fought Enzan and Blues, not Imi. She pelted him in Vulcan rounds,swiped at the air with a heavy Gold Fist. She clawed and pounded the ground asthe cyberbeast Greiga. Such awesome, terrible power, to collapse whole roadsin a single punch, to vaporize buildings in a Spread Gun salvo.

And she was tired of it. Exhausted with these sensationsthat weren’t her own, of sharing her mind with this deranged, sad little girl.

“That’s why this has to stop,” said Roll. “That’s why allof you need to help us stop it.”

Pickman jammed his tip into the ground. “I’ll have no partof this! Let the little witch suffer; she’s destroying everything she holdsdear before she dies! Why not let her?”

“It’s fitting,” said Grove. “She took us away fromeverything we knew. Now she’s doing the same to herself. I welcome it.”

Roll opened her mouth, but a new voice—a seventh voice—rosein response.

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

Between Sonicman and Pickman, the newcomer entered thespotlight alongside Rockman and Roll, her blue braids bright and beautiful.

“Egami-san!” said Grove. “You’re—”

“Here,” said Egami. “And you knew that, and I’ve been quietfor so long now.”

“You died seconds after you touched her. You couldn’t knowwhat it was like.”

“But I did, for a little while. I felt all manner of hatredand resentment and anguish, not only from the choir but you, too. Youespecially, since you were the only one still out there, talking to her.”

The eggplant navi shrank slightly. Egami’s gaze bored intoher. “But I can explain!”

“You don’t need to,” said Egami. “I should’ve been here.”

“That’s absurd. You couldn’t have been here even if youwanted. She couldn’t have touched you when she touched me.”

“Even still, if I’d been here, would you have been soangry?”

Grove bowed her head.

“Think we can change things now?”

The eggplant nodded. “I’ll help. However I can, I’llhelp.” She stepped forward, and four souls bathed in the spotlight. “Well?”she asked the others. “Aren’t you coming?”

“I’d rather die than help Echo,” said Slateman. “I don’tcare what you call it.”

“And if Yukawa-san were out there?” asked Roll. “What wouldyou do then?”

“He isn’t.”

“He could’ve been.” Roll scanned the group. “Any of youroperators could’ve been. Murata-san, Ikeda-san…” She looked to Mazeman andPickman. “I’m afraid I don’t know your operators, but you know what I mean,don’t you? Don’t any of you?”

Mazeman shrugged and skipped into the circle. “Why not. This could be fun.”

As did Rouletteman. “I owe Kousuke-kun that much, to doright by him, even if I’m really dead.”

“Will it thwart the little girl?” asked Pickman.

“If we all speak together,” said Rockman, “I think we can doanything.”

Begrudgingly, Pickman entered the ring as well.

“Sonicman?” said Roll. “Slateman?”

Sonicman smiled wanly. “She was a nice girl, for a while. Maybe we can bring her back to her senses.”

With Roll and Rockman, the light shone on eight souls, andonly Slateman was partially visible. “You can stay out, if you like,” saidRoll, “but I think there are others who want in if you don’t.”

Indeed, the rest of the choir poked and prodded at the arcof line and shadow.

“You’d be left all alone,” she warned Slateman. “Alone inthe dark.”

Slateman huffed, but he too joined the circle, and hisentrance opened the gates to others. The beam widened, and all manner ofdeceased souls—Imi’s victims all—flooded the expanding beacon of light. Policenavis, men, women, children…

“Aup aup!”

…virtual dogs.


The digital canine burrowed his way through the choir andjumped into Roll’s arms.

“Oh, I’ve missed you too, Rush,” she said. “I’ve missed youso much…”

Tap tap. “You did it, Roll-chan. Look around you.”

Sure enough, the veil of darkness had receded, leaving thechoir wholly engulfed in light—the inner light that’d started with Roll andspread among them, but the crowd parted for a guest, and the silver strands inher hair glittered in the collective glow.

“They’re all ready,” said Masuyo.

“For what?” asked Roll.

“For you to lead them.”

“Hyper Burst.”

Enzan braced, but the beam caught him unawares. He tumbledand rolled, sprawled on the pavement, and stared at the sky—a gorgeous bluesky. Were that all he saw, he’d never have known the burning cars on thestreet, the severed I-beams that jutted from the ground…

…the glowing Paladin Sword that dangled over his neck.

“Shall I show you, Enzan-san? Do you need to understand?”

He scoffed. “I do what I do, and I do it well. I’m notinterested in your suffering or whatever it is you call it.”

Imi smiled. “That’s what I’ve always liked about you. That’s why you don’t need to die.”

Her sword lowered, but only to the level of his chest, tothe black and white emblem emblazoned upon it.

“Blues-san, however, is something made.” In a short motion,she stabbed into the navi symbol and cut a divot from the center. Enzan’sarmor disintegrated around him, and his PET coalesced from the remnants,shorting and cracked.

“And everything made breaks.”

Hikari Netto gawked at the screen. His feet clapped on thesidewalk and slowed him to a halt.

“What is it, Netto?” asked Meiru. “What…” Her eyeswidened. “Oh no, Enzan…”

They turned back. The dimensional area loomed in thedistance. Netto had been determined to keep tabs on Enzan, but now…

“Papa, Nakamura-hakase, I…” He closed his mouth, at aloss. Enzan knew what he was getting into, surely, what with this desperategambit to distract Imi. Netto, too, had his responsibility to Nakamura, to allof them.

But I owe Enzan something. For all the time I spent withhim, I owe him. He shut his eyes. Nii-san, what should I do?

‘Enzan and Blues were kinder to us than they ever neededto be. Maybe it’s time we repaid them.’

It’s past time that we did, hasn’t it?

“Netto, go,” said Yuuichirou. “We’ll be all right.”

I hope so. Netto cast his sling aside and dashedback down the street, headed for the area.

“It’s madness,” said Hideki. “There’s no one to protect usnow.”

Codey appeared on his shoulder. “Maybe we should go wherethey are, where onee-san is.”

“And do what?”

“If anyone can stop onee-san now, Papa, it’s you.”

The father and scientist sighed. He shouldered his laptopbag and gazed into the distance, where Netto’s form shrank with each step.

“Oh, this is a mistake,” he muttered, and he trotted thepath before him, in Netto’s trail, hoping he hadn’t let Imi go a step too far.

Part Five


But some let things go so far that they no longer have anychoice. They stare at a white, speckled ceiling. They breathe through plastictubes. Their eyes droop and flicker and fall…


And then they snap open, for a while. Nakamura Masuyo movedher lips, but she didn’t speak—rather, she gasped for air. A clear plastictube snaked up her nose and into her chest, feeding an oxygen-rich mixture intoher lungs, but for all the good her father thought it would do, Masuyo stillwinced at the thought of something so invasive inside her.

Well, she wanted to wince. All day she’d been sotired, but no one would let her sleep. She couldn’t nod off without her fathersqueezing her hand or—


Or Imi yelping to keep her awake.

“It’s all right, Imi,” said Hideki. “Let her sleep.”

“But Papa, you said—”

“I know what I said.” He stroked Masuyo’s hair. Thepristine strands sparkled and dazzled, and for just a moment, Masuyo managed aweak smile.

“You always liked my hair too much, Papa,” she said.

“To tell the truth, it reminds me of your mother.”

Her gaze drifted to the ceiling again. “I’m looking forwardto meeting her.”


“I just wish it could’ve been here, with you and Imi, andnot…over there.”

Hideki wiped a tear away and brushed stray hairs from hereyes. “I’m sure she’s waiting for you and loves you dearly, just like Imidoes, just like…just like I do.”

She beamed. “I know, Papa. I love you, too.” She lookedto the desk. “I love you, Imi.”

The white navi gaped slightly, unsettled. “I…love you too,Masuyo-chan.”

Satisfied, Masuyo lay back, and her eyes inched shut. “Timeto rest now, I think. Been such a busy…day. Always…so busy…”

Father and daughters sat quietly in the artist’s bedroom;her drawings adorned the walls. By now, Hideki knew the story behind everysketch, for it’d been some time since Masuyo could produce another. Herdelicate, gentle hands betrayed her intentions, but Hideki massaged themanyway, held them tight between his, felt his racing pulse against her steady,slow beat.

For a while. He didn’t have a timer, a watch, or ametronome. Were they getting slower, or was it just his imagination? Was hisdaughter, right here, right now—

A sigh. Short and sweet and almost inaudible. Hidekipressed his fingers against her wrist, checking, scrambling. It was warm, butthat was all. No pulse, no life, no more Masuyo.

“Oh my baby girl!” He climbed onto the bed, propped thebody up with his hands, and hugged it one more time. “I knew this was coming,”he sobbed, “but…if only I could see you smile, one more time, it’d be worthit. It’d be worth everything to me…”

“It’s all right, Papa,” she whispered. “I’ll always be withyou. I’ll always smile.”

His eyes flew open. It couldn’t be; was she…?

He gripped her shoulders and pushed her away, studying herface. Lifeless and serene it was, but surely it hadn’t spoken. Where had thevoice come from?


Not her lips, not her body. The source lay somewhere elsein this room. He looked to the right, to the pile of stuffed animals, but theyobserved the scene in quiet mourning. He checked left—the desk, the drawingpad—and all seemed to be in order.

Except his daughter stood, mere inches high, on polishedmahogany.

“What is this?” said Hideki. “What are you doing, Masu—” He shook himself. “Imi?”

“You don’t have to cry, Papa,” she said with Masuyo’s voice,her likeness, her beauty. “See? I’m her now, and you won’t have to miss her. You won’t have to be sad, Papa!”

Stunned, he left the bed, and Masuyo’s body bounced on themattress. “This is what you decided, isn’t it? When Masuyo was gone, youthought you could replace her? You thought you could be her?”

“I thought you’d be happy! This is what you made me to do,isn’t it? Make people happy?”

He looked away. Even now, she kept Masuyo’s image as herown. To think he argued with his dead daughter, even by proxy—it sickened him.

“Not like this,” said Hideki. “Never like this!”

He stormed off, but Imi called after him, this time with herown voice. “But Papa, wait! I love you! Papa…!”

“Get out of here, Imi!” he yelled back.


“You’ve fulfilled your purpose; I don’t want you hereanymore, you understand? I don’t need you here anymore. GET OUT!”

Always the obedient daughter, Imi fled the PET, and onlyonce, in the weeks that passed, did she ever look back.

“I’m sorry…Papa…”

The dimensional area fell, its fifteen-minute window nowexpired.

“You should really tell me where he is, Enzan-san,” saidImi, holding him at sword-point. “Blues-san doesn’t look well.”

Muffled grunts and groans emanated from the cracked anddented PET. Each spark shorted Blues’s data, and Enzan was helpless tointervene.

“Where is Papa?” she asked him. “Where have you taken him?”

Enzan glared. “I tell you nothing.”

She narrowed her eyes. “There are lots of ways to bebroken. Maybe Blues-san will lose a little more of his programming, the codethat makes him so loyal to you, and then he’ll blame this all on your head. Maybe you’ll blame yourself for not acting sooner, and he’ll be gone for good.”

“You can try that,” said Enzan, “but Blues and I have beento the depths of hell and back and survived. We defeated the corruption ofDark Chips, the judgment of Duo!”

Despite his master’s confidence, Blues stifled a scream, andEnzan’s cheeks paled.

“You’re lucky, though,” said Imi. “They’re so quiet now. If they were yelling, if they were screaming…I think I’d have to kill you. Butthis is better, isn’t it? This is much worse than if I killed you. Now youhave to watch your navi die, just like Papa made me go, just like Papa—”


She flinched. Down the street, Netto stood poised and firm,fire in his eyes.

“You see?” she told Enzan. “There’s someone I broke a whileago. I used to be sorry, but now…I think it was fair, better that I do it thansomeone else.” She walked the street like a pedestrian, ignoring the overturnedcars or broken asphalt. “You know you can’t stop me if you hold back,Netto-san, Rockman-san,” she said. “And you don’t trust yourself to give in tohis hate, do you, Netto-san?”

“You’re wrong, Imi,” said Netto, a new dimensional areaforming overhead. “This time it’s different. This time, we won’t lose!

He bathed in the light of transformation. The glowilluminated the street like a second sun peeking through the clouds, but Imipermitted his boldness only so far as it amused her. She could let them feelpower and confidence and cut them down ever more harshly for it. Netto emergedfrom the sphere of light as R Rockman…

…and ate a Dream Sword to the face.


He slammed into the area wall, a hundred meters behind. Atthis spectacle, Meiru and Yuuichirou sped from the shadows and to his side. Helooked at them weakly and rubbed his shoulder, wincing.

“So everyone’s here,” Imi mused. “And Papa?”

“We’re right here, onee-san.”

Hideki shot the boy a look, but he couldn’t hide himselfnow. He inched forward from an alley, sneaking only brief glances at hiscreation.

“Do you see what you made me to be now, Papa?” she asked.

“You can come home, now, onee-san,” said Codey. “Papa hasthe cure, see?” He pointed to the laptop bag, which Hideki clutched tightly.

“A cure?” She chuckled, laughed, cackled to the winds. “Idon’t care about any cure! I don’t care about living! Even if I survive, I’mstill broken, Codey-kun, and Papa can’t bear to look at me!” She shot him awithering stare. “Can you, Papa?”

“I never meant to—”

“You did this to me!” she cried. “You sent me out and leftme with these…” She banged her own palm against her head. “These navis,these people!”

“I didn’t know!”

“YOU DIDN’T CARE!” She stepped forward, sword in hand.

“No, onee-san, don’t do this!”

“BE QUIET!” She slashed, and Hideki held up the only thingin his hands to defend himself.

The laptop bag. Circuits and letter keys sprinkled theground, fused with the heat and energy of the Paladin Sword.

But Imi was undeterred. She marched forth, cornering Hidekias the alley came to a dead end. “It’s all right, Papa. You always wanted tobe with Masuyo-chan. Now you get to be.”

She raised the sword high.

“No, Imi—”


A score of voices resounded at once. Imi’s sword stuck inthe ground, and Hideki shrank from it.

“What?” said Imi. “All of you—you talk to me together?”

The shrill screech faded away, and a clear voice spoke toher over silence. ‘That’s enough, Imi-chan,’ said Roll. ‘No more ofthis. We won’t let you.’


‘THAT’S ENOUGH!’ the choir roared. ‘NO MORE!’

She trembled. She paced in circles. “No, no! You can’t dothis! You can’t do this to me! I’m in control; you can’t stop me!” She pulled the sword back and thrust!


The blade dissolved, and she thrust—punched—at air.

“It can’t be,” she mumbled. “All of you together, talkingat the same time…”


She glanced back down the alley, toward the street. Nettospread his arms wide, and two Spread Guns enveloped his arms.

“Dream Aura?”

The white shield glowed…

…and fizzled.

“Hyper Burst!”

In the pale light of the Hyper Burst, Nakamura Hideki viewedthe world clearly, for the first time in too long. He saw Hikari Netto—his ownattack cast him with a pale glow, and Hideki wondered if the dark blues ofRockman’s armor were actually a lighter shade instead.

He saw Imi, too, defenseless and terrified. She bore theimpact fully; it blasted her through the yellow brick wall behind them and forseveral meters beyond.

He saw Codey, who could derive no joy in the scene beforehim. He loved his sister, after all, and their futures both lay with thesevered laptop, chopped in half and splattered on the ground.

And when the beam passed, he saw the world in darkness, aplace where daughters kill their fathers, and fathers murder their children. Heroes attack the weak, for they are the weak when their closestpartners and friends disappear in front of their eyes, bit by bit.

He saw the world in darkness, for Netto’s Hyper Burstskewered the building behind them, and a brick avalanche loomed above.

He put the PET to his chest and huddled over it. “Codey?”


“I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry too.”

And a ton of bricks rained down upon them.

Part Six

“I hope you can understand.”

Nakamura Hideki sat in his bedroom, his favorite chair. Thechair faced the window, and he rocked back and forth, admiring the night.

“You wouldn’t want her around doing things like that, wouldyou?”

He traced his fingers around the top of an object. Therewas a cold, round lip and an opening that led to air. He put the lid on it,however, and held the round knob at the top instead.

“I know she was your friend,” he said, “but I couldn’t haveher around, reminding me of you every day. I think about you enough as it is.”

He tapped his nail on the ceramic and felt the vibrationsthat resulted. It was like she could talk to him, through these echoes, and hefelt her regret.

“She’s just a navi,” he told her. “She’s not…she couldn’t…”

A weak voice in the night cut off his excuses. “Papa? Papa!”

A lump formed in his throat. He slid the rocking chairsideways, away from the window. “Couldn’t be…”

“Papa, where are you?”

He tiptoed down the hall, urn in hand. What was she doingback here? Hadn’t he made it clear? Hadn’t he told her…?

“Papa! I can’t stay much longer, Papa!” The words cut outin the middle and wobbled.

PET’s losing power. After all this time, the battery’sfinally run down. He hovered outside the door. When the power was gone,she’d have no way back. It was the last chance, and yet…he couldn’t bringhimself to go inside. If only she would go away and stay gone! He wanted nopart of her life; she belonged to the past, a past with Masuyo! What could shepossibly want from him now?

“Don’t you love me, Papa?”

There was a flicker and click. He peeked inside; Imi wasgone. He closed the door and shook his head. “It’s better this way,” hemumbled, to himself and the urn. “I can’t give her my love. First it was yourmother, then you…”

He slid back into the rocking chair, set sideways againstthe window now.

“Can’t I just be alone now?” he asked. “With you?”

He rapped on the side of the urn again, but the vibrationsdied off quickly, a resounding silence.

Such was the greeting he received when he awoke in ahospital bed. Sure, there was noise. Nurses babbled in Choinan, and atelevision in the corner showcased the devastation of the afternoon, but itmight as well have been silent. These sounds held no meaning to him.

He sat up and groaned. Bumps and bruises ached andthrobbed. Bandages stuck to his forehead, his arms.

“You’re awake.” Stoic as ever, Ijuuin Enzan sat besidehim. “I know better than to leave someone in hospital to anyone else’s watchnow,” he explained.

Hideki huffed. So it was. Still, it was miraculous. He should’vebeen crushed under all that debris. “How did I…?”

“Survive? That was Netto. He took most of the impact. He’sfine, too, although I think they had to reset his shoulder.” Enzan frowned. “He seems tougher now.”

“Did you recover…?”

“Your laptop? Hikari-hakase has been looking through thefragments, but most of the data has been lost.”

Of course it was lost; she sliced it in half. But still,he’d hoped some of it could be recovered, for Codey’s sake. His lifedepended…on…

“Where’s Codey?”

Enzan blinked. “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? He was there! I washolding his PET!”

“You weren’t when Netto brought you out,” said Enzan. “Youmust’ve dropped it.”

Hideki closed his eyes and pressed both hands against histemples. Pain surged within him for a moment, twisting his face in pain.

“Careful, the drugs may be wearing off.”

Drugs? How long…? He looked to the window. The blindswere closed, but clearly no sunlight shone through them. “It’s dark.”

“You’ve been out for hours.”

“Hours? How many hours?”

“Four or five?”

Imprecise. He needed to know exactly. He checkedhis watch.

00:34:15. 14. 13.

“There’s not enough time,” he whispered. “We have to findhim.”

“His PET is probably under a ton and a half of rubble;it’s—”

Hideki shot him a death stare. “We have to find him! Don’tyou understand? He’s my…he’s my…”

Enzan looked at him coolly, his deep blue eyes steady withthought.

“I’ll get a car,” he said. “We’ll go at once.”

Hideki unhooked his watch and held the face between histhumb and forefinger.

It doesn’t matter that I have nothing. Codey’s smart; hecan think of something. We can piece back the solution together, and he’sgoing to live. I may have made him a little boy, but he’s strong, and he’sgoing to fight! He’s not going to fall over and die on cue!

But the seconds ticked off mercilessly and without pity. Enzan borrowed the driver’s PET and yelled at the Choinan authorities in fourdifferent languages to get them through the debris, the closed-off streets. Atthe ten minute mark, Hideki put the watch in his pocket. He didn’t want to seethe numbers anymore.

They arrived at the scene, and spotlights highlighted thebrick pile for workers to clear the rubble.

“They’re not going fast enough,” said Hideki. “They need togo faster!”

He ran from the car, dove into the pile, tossed bricks asidewith his bare hands. The Choinan workers yelled at him and ducked theprojectiles, but he didn’t care. “Codey!” he yelled. “Are you in there? Talkto me, boy!”

Was that a voice? Could he hear him in there?

Was he alive?

“Codey! Codey, come on, give me a sign!” He kicked thepile, banging his toe on hard brick. “Codey!”

Beep-beep-beep-beep. Beep-beep-beep-beep. Beep-beep-beep-beep.

00:00:00. The black numbers flashed across the watch face,a digital death knell. Hideki closed his eyes and breathed in, shook his headand walked away. Enzan peered one more time through the rubble, but Hidekibuckled his seatbelt and stared straight ahead, his motions jerky and mechanical.

“I killed my son today,” he said, “and Imi is next.”

She curled into a ball and held herself, but what tremors offear she could suppress, a dozen more wracked her body, the progressive effectsof degeneration, a breaking down.

This is what you wanted, isn’t it, Roll-san? Masuyo-chan?

‘No, Imi-chan,’ said Roll. ‘This isn’t what wewanted at all. I don’t think anybody wanted this, but it’s what’s happening. Accept it.’

Papa and Codey-kun can be happy together. I don’t careanymore. I can’t care anymore. I almost killed him. I would’ve killedhim—my papa. She pressed her head against her knees. I’m just tired ofbeing broken! Why couldn’t he fix me? Because he never wanted to?

‘Maybe if you stopped thinking you were broken in thefirst place…’

I still hear you.

But there was something else, too. The reintegration ofdata, an arrival in her quiet corner of cyberspace.

“It’s…Codey-kun?” She sat up. “Again?”

“Onee-san…” The boy staggered as his weight returned tohim. He stumbled and collapsed.


She ran, but her legs gave out before him. The children ofNakamura faced one another, flat on the ground.

“Why aren’t you with Papa?” she asked. “Why aren’t youwell?”

“You chopped through his laptop,” he said. “All the datawas there. Didn’t you know?”

The white navi gaped and quivered. “I didn’t know!”

“It doesn’t matter.” He rolled over, on his back, and hiserratic breaths interrupted his thoughts. “He wasn’t finished. He didn’t cometo find me. I was stuck between the bricks. How did you survive, onee-san?”

“Roll-san and Masuyo-chan let me escape. They won’t permitanything else.”

“I don’t under…under…” He winced, tensing and panting. “Never mind. It’s far past time anyway. I should be gone already, but I wasafraid…”

Imi pushed herself up, sat on her knees. She draggedCodey’d head to her lap and wrapped her arms around him. “I never meant tohurt you,” she whispered. “I hope you can believe that.”

“You haven’t meant a lot of things, onee-san,” he noted. “You’ve done some of them, but…” His gaze drifted, darting back and forth. “It doesn’t matter now. None of it matters. I just want to be with my familynow; I wish I could find Papa…”

“We both do. It’s all right.”

“Do you think there’s a place for us?” he asked her. “Aworld for dead navis to go, like for humans?”

“I like to think we all go to the same place.”

The boy nodded and shook. “That’d be nice. I could meetMasuyo-chan; Papa sometimes talked about her. What was she…” He tensed again,writhing, but she tightened her grip, if only to give him something to hold onto. He yelped in discomfort and clenched her arms, and Imi wasn’t about totell him to let go.

“She was wonderful,” Imi told him. “She’ll be waiting foryou, I’m sure, for all of us.”

The gyrations increased and grew more violent. She pressedhim against her chest; this, the only creature in this world—real orvirtual—that she could touch without fear. She held him tight; for both itwould be the last time: one would join the departed, and the other would findherself alone again, unable to enjoy contact with others for fear of hearingthem. Thus, she shut her eyes and savored his warmth—the love of family she’dlong yearned. She damped his tremors, the frightful death rattles that plaguedthem both, and soon he was still and calm and quiet.

She opened her eyes and hugged the air. Codey was gone.

And I’m dying too. Everyone I’ve killed will die withme. She shuddered, and this time she was sure it wasn’t the frame bugcompromising her system. What can I do, Masuyo-chan? Isn’t there some wayI can make up for what’s happened? For Codey-kun, Roll-san, all of you?

‘You can make peace, Imi, but not necessarily withPapa,’ said Masuyo. ‘If you’re not at peace with yourself, Papa cannever forgive you.’

She waved her hands through the gap where Codey had been. Idon’t care about Papa, not anymore. Even if I could make things right, Papamay never take me back. He won’t be able to save me, but I can do somethingfor myself… She laughed. For you, my conscience.

‘I’ve only been waiting her for weeks, hoping you couldcome to terms with yourself,’ said Masuyo. ‘That you can realize itnow, on the brink of death, means without a doubt that you’re ready to forgiveyourself, but we can’t do that here, nor in any of the other foreign places you’vebeen.’

Not here? Then where?

Even though she was a figment, Imi could feel Masuyo’sbeaming smile upon her. ‘I’ve always been a part of you, Imi, and that part’sready to come back now, to return…’

And that smile formed itself on Imi’s own lips. Not one ofjoy or happiness. It was a smile that showed promise and hope…

…and the possibility, after many long weeks, of relief. Imiproudly bore that smile, for it was the last shred of hope she had left for hersoul.

“It’s time to go home.”

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