Web小説 「.hack//bullet」


    Somewhere on a road not recorded on his GPS system, the Celica had parked for the night, and Ryuuji had set up camp. It was still only the first night of his trip upward to Aomori--a journey that would usually not take long at all through regular toll roads and highways, but he had gone about it in a way that involved no trails of any kind: the analog path.
   He pulled a heater out of the back of the car and plugged it into a mini-generator he used to heat up canned fish sausages while keeping warm by a decently sized tent he had purchased at a roadside Don Quixote department store, like a Mecca in the middle of nowhere. They sizzled and filled his stomach well enough. A lukewarm beer washed it down, and the mediocre tastes of both immediately lined themselves up with the memory of the most delicious beer and sausages he had ever had with Kaya on their own camping excursions--far removed from what he had set up here.
   His thoughts went back to that time, and just as quickly to the dark period following it, a series of memories in Ryuuji’s head that were still enshrouded in his own despair. Since his showdown with Drain images of that time came back bit by bit, the world of gray becoming clearer and clearer. It happened suddenly and without warning, usually in these moments when he could afford an ample thought. Long-buried memories would be relived with intensity against his will. The warmth of the heater delivered him to one of the quiet moments where those clouds in his minds cleared, and an old tale began to surface.

   This is the story of how Ryuuji Sogabe sealed his own fate.
   It was around the time following Kaya and Sascha’s death, when he had begun seriously researching Digitalization--to what end he was not sure. It was only that he could sense a kind of force behind Digitalization that its development would unlock, and his nights in the Neimann Institute’s housing were spent deep in books and journals. It was in this parasitic cycle of research and development that a strange new patient had been deposited into their care.
   She arrived one day in tow of a woman who looked uninterested by her own daughter. The woman explained that she was divorced, and her father provided enough child support to pay for this girl’s care--she simply did not have the time to do it herself anymore, and felt guilty for neglecting her own daughter’s health. The girl stayed silent as her mother explained their circumstances. Drop offs like this were rare for Neimann--usually their patients were experimental cases referred to them by other doctors. The woman said she knew of their reputation, and no other doctor had been able to solve her condition. Neimann asked what exactly her symptoms were, and the woman said her daughter had been inflicted with a kind of weak will that had no discernible physical symptoms--doctors were stumped. It was concluded that her condition had to be psychologically induced, and she knew Neimann’s institute would be the most equipped to help her. The logic was sound.
   The girl looked Ryuuji in the eyes from across the meeting room table. He, who had existed in a kind of void for months now, felt the pierce of her immutable gaze. Ryuuji took note of her features more clearly--while there was resemblance to her mother, there were some fundamental differences. He recognized the same liminal features inherited from a foreign father the same way Sascha did--it became clear she was half-Japanese. The askance look in her eye was not quite directed towards him, but as if curved from the woman next to her--a distrust she was nonverbally communicating.
   “That’s not my mom,” said the little girl once the woman she came with was far enough away from the facility.
   “What do you mean?” asked Ryuuji.
   “My mom is somewhere far away.”
   “She’s just leaving now.”
   “No, farther than that. That lady is not my mom.”
   “Then where is your mom?”
   “In dreams,” said the little girl.
   Their strange first exchange set the tone for their strange relationship that followed. It had been less than some months since Sascha's death, and Ryuuji had not even begun to process that as reality. The sudden appearance of another half-German, half-Japanese little girl in front of her like a spectre in the shape of his dead daughter lulled him into a kind of protectiveness and complacency in a closeness that was unacceptable between a doctor and patient. He began taking her to lab events, and Neimann had been complacent enough in Ryuuji's condition to allow him this perverse game, at least for a little while longer. The girl took to it naturally as well, apparently not having much in the way of parental figures herself.
   "You remind me a lot of my brother," she once told him.
   "Your brother?" It was the first he had heard of it. "Is he in your dreams, too?"
   "No," she said, looking away. "He's across the ocean. I know he's going to come for me, though. I know he will," and then she went somewhere else.
   She went into these kinds of depressive episodes for longer and longer every time her brother would come up in conversation, as if that first time talking about him unlocked a door of intimacy between her and Ryuuji that allowed her to speak of such things. She never once mentioned her father.
   Ryuuji's students affectionately began to see her as his daughter, and he took pleasure in this. It came to a head, however, following the incident after she collapsed during his lecture.
   It seemed that the girl's condition had finally made itself apparent. While Ryuuji had already hypothesized her claims of seeing her mother in her dreams was a kind of delusion induced by traumatic psychosis, no amount of psychoanalysis revealed anything in her history that would've indicated an external force inflicting it upon her.
   "My mom tells me many things," she would say. "She told me I shouldn't be afraid of hearing her, because she used to hear things just as clear as I did when she was my age. She says this is my special talent, and that I should protect it."
   These sorts of statements would riddle their sessions, and in his own worn state Ryuuji began to enter a kind of relationship of shared psychosis with her--at least, this is what the psychological evaluations of his character would later reveal. The symptoms were all the same--visions that haunted her in sleep, sometime accosting her in the waking world. The peculiar difference between the girl and Kaya was this almost ESP-like ability to speak to her mother, and sense others. At some point into their correspondence, Ryuuji began to believe her.
   His medical evaluation of her condition concluded with a statement that baffled his coworkers--something he called a duplicate existence. This was defined, primarily, by the fact that his test subject experienced what appeared to be cascading realities--two states of being experienced by one consciousness, creating a kind of “interference” in her connection to reality itself. The theory was immediately panned by others at the Neimann institute, and had it not been for Neimann himself Ryuuji would have lost all credibility in the medical world. The paper was accepted based on the emergent field of Real Digitalization being researched in Japan at the same time--the cutting edge of technology, a kind of thing Neimann scoffed at as the “occult.” However, in regards to both Ryuuji’s grief and the existence of such technologies becoming an immutable fact, Neimann excused what other research assistants deemed to be the writings of someone who had become too close to his patient.
   Soon after the publication of the paper, Ryuuji began spending an increased amount of time studying Real Digitalize, entering a feverish state of research and development. A kind of madness set in. The girl began to occupy his thoughts and dreams, even though by this point she had become so weak that she could not leave her hospital bed. Ryuuji saw little of her in reality, but he was plagued by her image. He had managed, finally, to discover a halfway point--something he would call Soul Digitalization. By isolating mind from body then perhaps, he thought, it would be possible to realign the girl’s realities, so to speak. The inherent absurdity of such statements did not enter his mind, as somewhere along the way the image of the girl began to overlap with Sascha.
   Then came the fated day.
   Unbeknownst to anyone, Ryuuji had arranged for a Soul Digitalization experiment. He would transmit a specific signal to the girl as her condition reached a critical stage.
   He executes the program.
   There is no sound to it. The girl slips from this reality to another.
   The silence is measured. Nothing changes. The girl falls completely and utterly asleep.
   “Aina! Aina, can you hear me?!” He called her name until he had to be pulled away by Neimann.
   After this, Ryuuji had been denied from spending any more institutional funds on unauthorized experiments. The girl’s mother--or, rather, the woman she had arrived with--decided not to press any charges in exchange for the girl’s continued care in the facility. She had woken up shortly after the experiment, but the lucidity of her own consciousness would come and go with larger and larger intervals in between. But, because she was still physically healthy, the matter was settled without incident and reported nowhere--all that mattered to her ‘mother’ was that the girl was alive and conscious somewhere, just not near her. Neimann’s patience ran up, and Ryuuji was sent for a full mental evaluation. If he cleared the test, he would only be allowed to teach a predetermined curriculum and nothing more. It was to be a quaint, comfortable life from then on--Neimann still was unable to simply let him go.
   Ryuuji employed one final act of resistance: the research findings were published. As he was the one who handled the digitizing of all the Neimann Institute’s medical records, he had also been entrusted with the highest levels of security clearance to its database.
   The double existence unleashed itself to the realm of information under a false name, entering research databases of universities around the world. The anonymous work, subtle enough in differences to be unrecognizable, created waves in the then small group of researchers looking into Real Digitalize. The words “double existence” in their unabridged Japanese settled into the hands of the most capable researcher of the world, Jyotaro Amagi.
   The heater’s timer turns off. Ryuuji slept quietly that night.

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