Monday, April 13, 2009

Echoes 19 - "Resurrection and Life" - Part 1/5

This is merely draft. I don't consider anything really complete until it's on FFN. I'm thinking about rearranging or perhaps changing the tone of what is said, but I'll have to give that more thought.

At any rate, part one of five.

Chapter Nineteen:  Resurrection and Life

The morning air was still and cool, and Nakamura Hideki shivered and rubbed his arms.  He couldn’t blame his reaction wholly on the weather, however; he chose to leave the thermostat low.  Every zenny saved on heating he could spend on Masuyo, extend her life another hour or minute.  That was worth any cost.

And besides, even if the furnace roasted the house to 30 degrees Centigrade, he’d tremble anyway.  He had something to give his daughter, and he could only hope she’d like it.

He tiptoed upstairs and hovered outside her room.  Masuyo breathed lightly, sound asleep and unaware of his presence.  Thus, he crept inside, lay the green and white metal case on her desk, and snuck out again.  He shut the door to all but a crack and peeked inside with one eye.

“Hello?”  The PET projected an image, a holographic representation of a little girl, clad in a white skirt.  Thin strips of green marked the tops of her boots and gloves, and a tall, conical hat sat atop her head.

“Hello?  Masuyo-chan?”

In the bed, the human girl stirred.  She rubbed her dark eyes and untangled the silver streaks in her black hair.  “Who is that?” she said.  “Who are you?”

The projection hopped across the desk and bowed.  “I’m Imi!”

“You’re a navi?”

“That’s right!  Your father programmed me for you.”

“Papa did?”  Masuyo rolled out of bed and rubbed her head.  She knelt beside the desk, at eye level with Imi.  “So you’re what he’s been working on,” she said with a clever grin.  “For me.”

“Papa hoped we could be friends,” said Imi.  “I mean, I know I look young—”

“And I’m young to have a navi at all.”

“…but I can do a lot of things, I promise!”

“Things like what?”

“You’ll see,” said Imi coyly.  “Papa said they’ll make you smile.  He said you don’t get to smile as much as you used to.”

Masuyo looked dour for a moment.  “I guess that’s true.”

Imi cocked her head.

“But I’m sure we can be friends,” Masuyo assured her.  “Just wait ’til I show everyone at school!  Nobody in my class has a PET yet!”

“Speaking of school,” said Imi, “Papa said you’d probably be running late.”

Masuyo checked the clock on the wall and gasped.  “Oh, you’re right!  I can’t be late again; I’ll get in so much trouble!”  Her eyes turned to the door and the small angle it made with the hinge.  “If only someone would come in and wake me up on time!”

The game was up.  He was busted.  “That’s what Imi’s for!” said Hideki, pushing the door open.

“Then why didn’t you give her to me sooner?”

“I had some finishing touches to make!”

Masuyo rolled her eyes.  “Yes, Papa.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t like her.”

She looked between them and tapped her chin thoughtfully.  “I like Imi just fine,” she said, holding the PET to her heart.  “Now you, on the other hand…”

“Is that any way to speak to your father?”

“Shoo,” said Masuyo.  “I need to get ready for school.”

“All right, all right,” said Hideki, and he eased his way out.  Though his daughter might fancy herself hard to please, he could see plainly enough she was thrilled with Imi.  The giggles they shared when he was gone confirmed that much.  He couldn’t be mad that she’d lightly forced him out, either; it meant she’d not yet lost hope, that someone like Imi could reawaken her spirit.

Thud.  If only for a while.

Hideki barged inside.  Masuyo lay on her back, wincing, and rubbing her head.

“What happened?” said Hideki.

“I fell again,” she said.  “Hit my head on the bedpost.”

“Hey, look at me; look.”  He stared her square in the eyes, and she met his gaze.  “Good, no concussion.  Is there any blood?”

“It’s just a bump, Papa; you’re overreacting.”

“Maybe so.”  He eased her up, but she wobbled on her feet.

“What just happened?” said Imi.  “Masuyo-chan—”

“Sometimes my legs give out, Imi,” said her operator.  “Not to worry.”

Imi nodded, but she shot Masuyo a curious glance.

“I’ll be right outside,” Hideki told his daughter.  “Is that all right?”

“Of course, Papa.”

Hideki inched outside again and sat against the wall and floor.  All his hopes rested with Imi now, and for a moment, he wondered whether it was right to make Imi.  What would happen when Masuyo’s body finally failed her?  Years or months—it made no difference.  Someday Masuyo would be gone, and just he and Imi would remain.  What then?

A burst of laughter erupted from the room, assuaging his fears.  Imi had brought some small joy to Masuyo’s life again, and that was worth any consequences, justified any cost.  Whatever happened after Masuyo, Hideki could live with, so long as Imi made his daughter smile.

Part One

“Ah, hakase, good morning!  We didn’t expect you back so soon.”

Soon.  Soon they called it.  He’d left on Monday morning, day 56, and now it was early Thursday, day 59.  Just three days since Enzan rocketed him to Ameroupe on a spaceship, yet those three days felt like the passing of a millennium.

Weary and fatigued, Yuuichirou trudged to his lab, much to the surprise of his interns and subordinates.

“You all received the data I sent?”

They nodded in unison and pointed to clipboards and screens and chalk drawings.

“Good.  Throw it out.”  Yuuichirou laid a chip on his desk.  “This has my revisions.  Start from there.”

To their chagrin, he retired to his cot, but dreams of the past three days disturbed his sleep.

“What am I now?  What is there left for me?”

Rockman’s questions summed up Yuuichirou’s legacy as a father.  He’d dedicated the bulk of his energies to work, to science, but what did that leave for family?  That his work saved Saito didn’t excuse his absence later.  A true father directs and guides his sons, yet when they left, they never consulted him.  The idea—the very notion—never occurred to them, and why should it?  What had he done to earn their confidence?  Nothing.  And he left them alone all for what?

A body in a tank of liquid.

Since dreamland wouldn’t bless him with peace, Yuuichirou sat back in darkness, switched on the tanks’ inner lights, and bathed in the glow of Masuyo and Saito.  They’d both failed, hadn’t they?  He and Nakamura, rather.  They forgot the children they already had.  Nakamura’s situation, however, was convenient:  Imi hounded him all over the globe, so he could run from his problems.  Yuuichirou could afford no such luxury.  His sons were coming home—he’d moved to ensure that—and soon he would confront them both.  To Netto he would give comfort and support.  That was easy, but what of Rockman?

Yuuichirou stared at the first tank, where Netto’s double floated in silence.  To think he’d spent so much time on Saito’s body and promptly overlooked his state of mind.  No more!  A father he would be, and let no one accuse him of anything less.  He would cure his elder son’s malaise, shatter the chain of troubled thoughts and doubts.  He could only hope it would prove no more difficult than severing the link between the boys.  Of that there were still no guarantees, despite his efforts.

Sometime that morning, one of his interns stepped into the lab and passed him a note.  The first thing that jumped out at him was that noon had come and gone.

The second was that Netto and Meiru were on the way back to Japan.

The Net Police dispatched Manabe Rin to escort Meiru and Netto from the airport.  The former was able enough, but the latter bore a sling on his arm—the battle damage, he explained, from their last bout with Imi.

Time spent in Namaste, at a hospital to patch up wounds, had delayed their arrival.  The green sedan caught the tail end of afternoon dismissal and ran afoul of schoolchildren on their way home, to their mothers and fathers or after-school activities.  A pass by Higureya revealed Tohru, Dekao, and Shuuko going wild over the latest batch of battle chips, much to a chip collector’s delight.

“Do you want to stop?” said Manabe.  “I’m sure we have time.”

Netto waved her on with his one good arm, however, and the chip shop shrank behind them.

Meiru understood why they went forward.  The evidence piled up on every corner and side street.  Skyscrapers that had clouded and marred the horizon vanished over the months they were gone.  Old friends no longer looked the same:  Shuuko had let her hair down but cut it around her shoulders, and even little Tohru had grown, if only a few centimeters.  Manabe spoke of the incidents that paralyzed the city at night, which, until recently, Dingo and Nenji had held at bay.

Dingo and Nenji.  Meiru closed her eyes, and the doctors’ words echoed back to her.  “Hairline fracture of the right femur, left ankle sprain, cracked rib—no, two cracked ribs…”

Imi’s wrath had been terrible indeed.  Netto had escaped with largely scrapes and bruises; Meiru thought he was lucky because he’d been the last to fall, but he stared out the window, shaking his head, both on the plane and now, back home.  He would’ve liked it better if he’d taken the brunt of the injuries, if he could’ve spared the others…

That was just like him, like both of them.  Rockman, too, would’ve given everything to stop Imi.  Codey’s interference had robbed him that chance.

But there’s a difference.  Rockman would do it for himself as much as for others.  Netto would only put himself in danger for others.

And what of her, of Sakurai Meiru?  Who did she act for?  What did she want?


He brushed her hand aside, but this motion ran afoul of his sling, aggravating his shoulder.  Despite this rejection, Meiru watched him closely.  He had to say something; he couldn’t stay silent forever.  Surely if he resented her decision, he would say so, wouldn’t he?

What if, in his mind, he’d said it a thousand times already?

Netto and Rockman exchanged a glance.  Despite Rockman’s collapse, his emotional break, he and Netto  shared something powerful, something Meiru could never be a part of.  For a moment, Meiru doubted her own intentions:  no doubt separating them was best, but Meiru wanted her old friend back—the cheery, carefree, oblivious Netto of weeks gone by.  Nay, it was worse:  she wanted the best of old and new, both his sublime, never-say-die attitude from the past and his willingness to indulge in her comfort, to let her lead him when he was blind, to hug her when even he thought Rockman would be gone for good.

For these thoughts, Meiru cursed her own naïveté.  She couldn’t pick and choose the best of both past and future.  She had to take the bad with the good, pain with joy, maturity with grief.  That’s why they hadn’t come home this day.

Home was in the past.

Hikari Yuuichirou rubbed his glasses with his labcoat.  “Netto, Saito, Meiru-chan, how was your flight?”

Netto leaned to the side, looking around his father.  His fears confirmed, he raised an eyebrow.  “Ah, it was…good, Papa.”

“Glad to hear it.  Well, I’d like to get started right away—”

“Oji-san?”  Meiru opened her mouth to say something else, but she looked a bit green.  Or red.

“Something wrong?”

She pointed past him.  “They’re naked.”

Yuuichirou turned.  Sure enough, Masuyo and Saito’s bodies shone in total nude splendor.

“Ah.  Maybe you should wait outside.  Netto, Saito…”

The boys followed their father, who pinned the curtains together at a fold, obscuring the two bodies.

“I heard about Namaste,” said Yuuichirou.  “How’s your arm?”

“Could be worse,” said Netto.  “It’s fine, Papa.”

“Good, I’m glad.”

They were all glad…weren’t they?


“I suppose we should talk about the procedure,” said Yuuichirou, cutting off Rockman.  “It should be fairly simple.  I’m going to upload some data into your program, Saito, and the effect should cascade to Netto just like the last one did.  Netto, I’m going to hook you up to these monitors here, just to be sure, but—”

“What about us?” asked Rockman.  “The power we share when we’re connected, the power to defeat Imi-chan—what will happen to it?”

Yuuichirou looked between his boys.  “I don’t know.”

They let Rockman sleep while the patch’s effect took hold.  Netto, however, fidgeted.  The sensor pads stuck to his skin, and the wires entangled him.  Since all appeared normal despite this, Yuuichirou showed mercy to his son and freed him from the monitors, and Netto retired to the hall…

…with her.

She buried her hands in her lap, said nothing when he sat beside her.  True, Netto had been cold to her, but only for lack of freedom.  Some things should not be said while another mind haunts your own.


“I’m sorry.  I should’ve found some other way.  I—”

“Even with the link between us, I couldn’t convince him,” said Netto.  “I doubt you could’ve.”

She nodded, but the motion lacked conviction.

“I’m glad to be here,” he told her.  “I hope this works.”

“I hope so too.”

“It’s just…when I was standing there, facing Imi, and nothing happened…”

She looked away.

“…I couldn’t stop him, and I couldn’t stop her, either.  It’s exactly like he felt when Imi took Roll…”

Meiru shuddered.  She dabbed her eyes.  “Can you forgive me?”

He frowned.  “Shouldn’t I?”

“But Netto—”

“Even nii-san wants forgiveness, and I can’t not forgive him.  He’s my brother.”  Their eyes met.  “And you’re my friend.”  Meiru giggled.  “What?” said Netto.  “What’s so funny?”

“You see things so simply.”

“I don’t see anything simple about it.”

“It’d be easy for someone else to be angry, either with me or with Rockman.”

“What’s the point of doing something easy?”

She scoffed.  “Netto…”

“Well, forget that then.  I know I’ve been gone a long time, and a lot’s happened.   We’re here, though—maybe not the way we used to be, but we’re still here.”

Meiru laughed.  “And you’re still silly.”

“I’m not silly!”

“It’s better if you are.  It means not everything’s changed.”

Netto pouted.  “I’m not silly.”

His stomach rumbled.

“Sounds like you’re hungry,” said Meiru.

“They didn’t give us enough food on the flight!” he said.  “How can you expect me to be satisfied with that?  Just a tiny cup of rice.  Honestly!”

She smiled.  With wistful joy in her eyes, she beamed at him.  “I’m glad you’re back, Netto.  Even if this doesn’t work—”

“It’ll work.”

She leaned next him, took his hand, rested her head on his shoulder.  “How do you know?”

He closed his eyes.  Hidden amongst his own feelings—the comfort of Meiru at his side, nostalgia for the past and old trivialities they left behind—other sensations emerged:  the need for vengeance, for vindication, for absolution.  Some of these things he could give, but the desire was weak and fleeting, distant to his own mind, yet he recognized them at once.

“He’s already here,” said Netto.  “I feel him.”


“It’s just a feeling,” Rockman told his father.  “Like when he’s sleeping.”

“But do you hear—”

“If we try.”

Yuuichirou sank in his chair, wiping his brow.  “Still, that’s an improvement, right?”

“It is, Papa.  Netto-kun and I are grateful, thank you.”

“Well, if this is how it stays, there may be more work to do yet,” said Yuuichirou, “but I’m glad this was something I could do, for both of you.”

“You’ve always worked hard, Papa,” said Rockman.  “You worked hard for us.”

Yuuichirou shook his head.  “No, my son, not for you.  Then that would make everything just and fair.  If only I had done everything for you, we wouldn’t be here.  I may have done all I could as a scientist for you and Netto, but I didn’t do what I should have as a father.”

“But Papa—”

“Tell me truthfully, Saito:  how do you feel now?  About yourself?  About Roll and Imi?  About Netto?”

“How do I feel?  Papa—”

“Son, in the last week, you nearly killed Meiru-chan trying to kill Roll and Imi.  You abandoned Netto, shot Glyde, crippled Netto with pain in your battle with Imi…”

Rockman trembled.  “Is that all?”

“I’m sorry,” said Yuuichirou.  “That was harsh of me, but I’m trying to help you.  I’m trying to be your father, give you support.”

“What would you have me do?”

“What do you want to do?”

Rockman sighed.  “It was easier before.  WWW were trying to hurt people, and we stopped them.  Pharoahman, Dr. Regal and the Darkloids, Duo’s armies, Greiga and Falzer….  We knew we had to defeat them, but it was natural to do that.  Sometimes, people or navis died, but—”

“Not Roll.”

The boy shook his head.  “Not Roll-chan.  That was my fault.”

“It wasn’t!”

“It was!  I ran the program; I wanted to be human!  I wanted to be there for Netto-kun, I was angry with Roll-chan for never telling me, and I thought…I thought I should go with the person who didn’t ask me to be with them.  Roll-chan asked.   Netto-kun would never.  That seemed fair, but it wasn’t about fairness, was it?  It’s not fair that Roll-chan is dead now, dead or trapped in Imi-chan’s mind.  How is that fair?”

“You made a choice in good faith.”

“I know!  I know.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is.  Netto-kun’s told me that so many times.”  He shook his head.  “I still owe her something, though.  Even if Imi-chan’s infected and dying, I have to seek her out, Papa!  She should be punished for what she did to Roll-chan.  She uses Roll-chan’s weapons, you know.  I saw it just yesterday—she attacked Raoul and Thunderman with a Heart Slash, shot Napalmman and Nenji-san with Roll-chan’s arrow.  It’s one thing when she uses other navis’ attacks, but Roll-chan…”  He made a fist.  “It’s wrong.  It’s like a dark shadow on Roll-chan’s memory.  Codey was right, Papa:  I still hate her for what she did, and I don’t care what you say; I won’t stop it.  I can’t stop it.”

“Do you think anything good will come of those feelings, Saito?”

“That’s why I thought maybe if I were the one who touched Imi-chan with the frame bug, it’d be better.”

Yuuichirou sighed.  “I didn’t do all this…”  He gestured to the tanks.  “…just to see you throw your life away.”

“I have to do what’s right, Papa.  I will keep after Imi-chan.”

“No!  I forbid it!  For your sake, for Netto’s sake, stop chasing her, at least while Netto recuperates!  At least—”

“It’s all right, Papa.”  Netto poked his head inside, and Meiru followed him.  “I stick with nii-san on this.  We need to stop Imi, and just because of this…”  He pulled on the band of the sling.  “…doesn’t mean we can wait.  I want to go back.  I want to rejoin the fight.”

Yuuichirou approached his younger son.  “Netto, are you sure about this?  With Saito’s state of mind—”

“I have faith in my brother, Papa.  I know when it comes down to it, we will make the right decision, won’t we, nii-san?”

“I hope so, Netto-kun.”

At that, Netto slid his PET back in its holder.  “So, where did Enzan and Nakamura-hakase go?”

“Last I heard,” said Yuuichirou, “they were waiting for Imi in Choina…”

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