Rockman.EXE belongs to Capcom. This fan fiction was created for the Tri-Monthly Contest at Rockman.exe Online. Please do not post this fiction anywhere without the author's permission.

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A Hitman With A Ghost

By: yxnomei_geist

yxnomei_red@hotmail.com

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Saito stepped down from the aircraft, gently leaped down to the soft brown mud and ducked down, the winds rushing past, awaiting further orders. Around him, sixteen other men crouched in an undignified manner, doctors, scientists, guards, the commanding officer. Around him, the air tasted bitter with ash, it oozed around the men with piercing heat and the relentless assault on their sense did not stop as their gazes turned to the ground. There, as plain as the absent daylight, was a littered earth. Shot and shell scattered. Mud-drenched sleepers lying, fixed pains and half-smiles. Red bursts in occasional patterns and dripping lines offering directions to more disgust and bodies. In many respects, Saito was expecting this. But that never made it easier. But he found sanctity in the fact that he was performing his duty.

The helicopter begun to rise, and gave opportunity for those left, those condemned, to raise their heads, their eyes. Judging by the looks of many, Saito surmised that he was not the only to be affected by the various imagery and took consolidation in the simple fact that his heart was neither a weakness nor was it his burden alone. The commanding officer rose his arm and, after a moment's clarity, dropped in the direction of travel. He had a sharp, clear blood stain on his sleeve, most likely his own, but one could never be sure. Times were difficult, dangerous but, most of all, uncertain. Saito cared little for uncertainty. He suffered greatly from times. But that didn't matter. He'd been given an opportunity to prove himself to his country. To fight for his country. To defend his country.

It was more then clear to most that Saito Hikari was a true patriot.

Looking further along the distance, his vision allowed a glimpse of their objective. A trench. A recently bombed trench. Blackened and smoking. On the commanding officer's uniform, the Electopia insignia continued to 'shine' through the blackened mist and scorched ground. It had obviously been cleaned and cared for greatly. On the medic's uniform, a dimmer insignia was emblazoned on the sleeve, above the elbow, beneath to the medical icon, preventing them being made targets of battle - not that it mattered. In the heat of battle, the enemy does not take the time to distinguish from medical and soldiers. Saito knew, however, neither did the Electopians. It was the conduct of war, no use believing the propaganda. The various guards had Electopia insignia, though the veterans seemed to wear them with less pride then most, and their 'glow' was weak through the dust-infested air.

Saito Hikari's Electopia icon was stitched into the top right sleeve and stood as powerfully as the commanding officer's. After all, he was a true patriot.

Approaching the trench with a sense of security, the officers and medics wondered, drawn to a beacon of unusual proportions, of obvious and bold statement. It was Yumland insignia, the imagery a mockery of the Electopian bombings, standing proudly in the fluttering wind. The commanding officer seemed to take great offence by such an outlandish insult and tore the flag down. Saito decided not to react. He understood the rules of war, but he also understood respect. He understood the respect on their officers, their soldiers. They were fighting on behalf of their country. They were patriots as much as an Electopian. But they were fighting for the wrong cause, whatever that may be.

The irony was lost on Saito, however. Because he was a true patriot. That tended to closed his mind at times.

They decided, after sweeping for personnel mines, to enter. To drop into the trenches. To allow themselves to be swallowed by the stench. To allow themselves to be subject to their work. To what occurred after their work. To how many people died due to their work. The air grew thicker and the medics decided to sit back, rest for a moment. The commanding officer and various officers seemingly couldn't wait to enter the trenches, to witness the accuracy of Electopian bombing strafing runs. Saito stood back, for a moment, paused for thought. Throughout his wait, he heard gasps and gleeful cries. So only one thought entered his mind. 'Very accurate.' But that was the patriot speaking. He continued to wait. He tried to peer into the trenches from the top but could see no further than the doorframe. He tried to peer at various points but could see nothing but the tips of helmets and caps. The occasional shell, embedded in the mud banks, was visible but nothing more. The absence of detail taunted him, drew him closer, nearer, down the trench, inviting him as witness, observer, detailer. Looking closer, he realised the banks were black. Pitch.

The air grew denser and denser as Saito stopped thinking for a moment and admired his insignia. Eleven years in service. He was a true patriot.

His patience faded, seeped away, drained throughout his body into the void of nothingness, nought but the dead. His mind raced, looking for an excuse to enter, ignoring the fact that there was nothing holding him back, no reason as to why he shouldn't. He began to wonder why he waited in the first place. He began to pace, his boots tracking slight steps in the sludge beneath his feet, the clinks and clunks of empty shot and shell, attempted merging with the silver of his boots, fought the silence above and the general chatter below. Saito allowed his vision to drift aside, to the various characters he'd hoped to see, to the medics. But they'd already descended. They were nowhere to be seen and, still, the taunting chatter and noise tempted him. At least, he assumed they'd descended. Where else would they be? He couldn't figure out why he paused, why he stood above, why he avoided examining the work of the bombers.

Turning his back to the trenches, he embarked the ladder and slowly climbed down. The chatter continued, raising in amplitude, reduced in volume, increased in depth, decreasing in tone, warped by the heatů? By the invading silence? By respect? Saito Hikari placed a foot to the slime-like dirt and the chatter halved. A second foot and silence arrived. The heat begun to strike his face and the air condensed, making every movement, every breath difficult, harsh, painful. The colour of the ladder swayed and lingered and twisted before a final resignation at a pale grey.

It was brown before... wasn't it? No, the ladder was grey... a metallic grey. The mud, the dirt made it brown. The dying made it darker.

Saito realised he'd closed his eyes. Saito wondered whether to open them. He wondered what was to be, should he open them. What he would see, should he open them. What he would witness, should he open them. There was little left to do. Releasing his grip on the ladder, he turned about face. He stomped an 'attention' with his boot and a 'salute' with his hand before opening. He looked and saw. He saw and began to regret. He was shocked. He was appalled. He was angry. He was sad. He was upset. He was sick. So he did the one thing left to do, a final indignity to the poor souls, the victims of war. He threw up. An orange, pink, red slime followed its escape from his mouth, coursed a puddle by his right foot and trailed down, a stream, to a nearby skeleton. Burnt. Scorched. Incinerated. Two thoughts invaded Saito's mind. 'Yes, the bombing was accurate' and one more;

'Poor man.'

He gave in to pity and approached the soldier, at this point noticing the various other bodies and patches of dirt. He almost threw up again but continued to strive towards the sickened soldier. Removing a handkerchief from his left inside pocket, he cleared up the skeleton and tried his best to regain the lost dignity of the faceless dead. Dropping his knee to the ground, a squelch followed the action and a damp feel erupted the nerves in his knee. Lifting, an orange, pink, red mess had attached itself to his knee. The indignity had been returned, almost caused a slight giggle from Saito Hikari. He always did believe in 'what goes around, comes around' and it always did make him laugh when he was right. But this slight encounter made him realise how far the stream of bile had travelled. There was another soldier. A survivor of the bombings. That was obvious by the bag over his face, a mask, and the gunshot to the left of his chest. There was only one circumstance Yumland soldiers would be seen like this.

He'd killed himself. He'd given himself an honourable death, by his own hand.

Saito Hikari took no time to wonder why. Because he'd removed the bag. The mask. And he saw. Yumlandians always had dignity. They were always so... specific. They were always so pedantic. Saito lifted up the bag, the mask, and saw a man with no face. Replaced only with burns and hollow eyes. The sleeper hadn't died in the bombings. He'd been condemned to die in the bombings. But the sleeper whispered a certainty, the sleeper stirred and moaned, crossed his arms and, with piteous recognition in fixed eyes, raised distressed arms as if to bless and grabbed a stunned Hikari, charging him into the opposite mud bank. They struggled for a moment before the sleeper forced a strangle hold on Saito, pinned against the mud bank, raised by the neck. The prevailing sunlight shone atop Saito's head. The heat was obvious. Saito tried to take his buster pistol but found no weapon in his holster. Saito opened his mouth to shout for help but found no outward voice. Saito turned his head to see the rest of the men but found no one else. He was alone with the sleeper, and the sleeper wanted to talk, through his burnt face, his burnt eyes, his burnt mouth, his burnt soul.

"Strange friend... here is no cause to mourn..."
"N-no...!" Saito tried to struggle.
"My friend... this is not to... grieve."
"What do you want? Let go of me!"
"'The pity of war, the pity war distilled. Now men will go content with what we spilled'."
"... what?"
"'The pity of war, the pity war distilled. Now men will go content with what we spilled'."
Saito stopped struggling and the sleeper lifted him to the mud bank further, his feet dangling. Saito began to panic with the sleeper in a state of effortless.
"'The pity of war, the pity war distilled. Now men will go content with what we spilled'."
"You don't approve."
"I... do not... approve."
"Of the war. Of the disregard of life."
"Dis... distilled..."
"Distilling life. Through war."
"I knew you... in the dark as you... stabbed with cannon and bayonet... I parried... but my hands are nought..."
"I-I don't understand!"
"'To die, to sleep, perchance to dream'."

To die. The sleeper strengthened his hold on Saito, choking him. To sleep. Saito tried to release the grip but failed. He lashed out with his feet but found no target as the sleeper continued. Perchance to dream. Saito panicked, he cried out, he cried, he screamed, he wailed, he choked. He wept. The sleeper slept. Saito Hikari slept. Saito Hikari woke.

But what he woke to was nothing more. Nothing less. White walls. White floor. White nurses. White bed sheets. White cast. The sleeper was right. Distilling life. Saito woke to a straight body. Saito woke to a military-standard medical centre. Saito woke to an existence no better then the sleeper's. Because the sleeper understood. Trying to reach for the transparent glass of water on the bedside table, Saito realised why the sleeper's existence was better, once more.

His sniper rifle rested beside him. His uniform hanging behind the door. His insignia removed. Saito Hikari woke to paralysis.

--

"Let me go! Let me out of here!"
"Please, sir! Calm down."
"I will not calm down! I want to get out of here!"

It was humiliating. That was the most accurate word for such an occasion. That was the only word for such an occasion. It was humiliating, watching a head bobbing up-and-down, up-and-down, trying in vain for some futile effort. One knew, quite clearly, that Saito could do little more. He knew quite clearly that he could do little more but he continued. Thrashing slight distances with his neck, straining, creaking. His eyes, darting side to side, searching for unseen salvation or escape. His mouth frothing, spitting spiteful hatred. But that was all. It was undignified. His feet refusing to lift. His legs refusing to bend. His arms refusing to twist. His fists refusing to clench. Watching this poor fool's face shaping in frustration, to watch his anger and effort to his body and seeing nothing in response to such emotion. It truly was humiliating.

There was no shouting. No screaming. No indignities. He coped. There was little else to do, he surmised. There was no need to deny the simple fact. There was no way to deny the simple fact. Therefore, there was no way of denying himself an answer. So he decided. From the moment he knew. From the moment he could no longer feel his legs, his arms, his body, he decided. In many respects, the decision was pre-ordained. It was his destiny. How else would he answer? What else would he do? He's a soldier. He's prideful. He's dignified. What else was there to do?

"Please sir, before you do yourself more harm."
"What more could I possibly do to myself!? I can't move my fucking body!"

He swore. He didn't often swear. He thought it vulgar. Unnecessary. But he swore. And he did more - rather, he would've done more. He would've hit the nurse. He would've struck the doctor. He would've ran out, leading the various followers on a wild-goose chase. He would've smashed the window and escaped the captivity of the hospital. He would've done things so... unnatural to him before. It was perplexing to him, being like this. Being so helpless.

He wanted to tell someone. He wanted to hear an antithesis. He wanted to know more about what he was doing. He wanted to know what awaited him afterwards - or, rather, wherever anything did wait for him. He wanted to hear someone tell him otherwise. He wanted someone to argue with him, to tell him he's wrong. He wanted someone to tell him he was right, it was the honourable way. He wanted so much, because he was confused. But perhaps what he wanted the most was someone to comfort him.

Many would question this, considering how quickly he reached his decision, but it was difficult. And upsetting.

Saito made a conscience decision not to calm down.

"Please sir!" Her voice had lost that careful diplomatic edge as she panicked and thought of little more then the consequences of her inability to calm Saito down from his attack. He tried to move again, his arms, his legs, his stomach, his elbow, his wrists, his hands, his fingers, everything remained perfectly still. He strained with fear and absolution as he continued his futility. His neck began to grow veins of pressure, his forehead began sweating, his eyes watering and his mouth continuing to froth and his mind still racing with the music of his effort, a dull groan charged through his head, drowning his emotion, his logic with its eerie forceful nature.

On the surface, all one could see was a man with a straining face. And no matter what else he felt, it was undeniably humiliating.

He looked to his right, to see a glass of water filled to the rim. His mouth began to feel dry, his throat burning. He thought it an ironic statement. He almost thought it an insult - were the doctors unaware of his situation? His health? The fact that he was paralysed from the neck down? So the only thought which unwittingly launched into his mind was 'not really.' Not that it mattered to him. Wherever they knew or not was irrelevant. There was nothing anyone could do. To his left was an open window, taking the heat with the open wind, through the open field, to the open air. In many respects, he saw this as another ironic statement. Were the doctors mocking him?

It didn't matter. None of it mattered. He just took some time to... breath. Cope. Struggle. He arrived at the conclusion that he was satisfied with his decision. The conclusion. He began to feel cold. How could he close that window?


Finally realising how helpless he was, Saito made a conscience decision to calm down. So he thought. And realised. The answer was there. It had always been there. He just... went through the emotions first. So there was one question left. "Have you contacted my family yet?" A solemn nod from the nurse satisfied Saito Hikari. He paused once more, trying to recover a grip of his life and sighed, awaited his family, inhaled, exhaled. Waiting... waiting... waiting... arrived.

--

The walls were white. The windows were small squares, crossed beams shot at vertical and horizontal mid-points. The floor a smooth, pale grey, with tiles beneath clicking from the sound of the occasional rushed high heel or a pencil dropping. Sound echoed through the hollow corridors, a remainder of the formal atmosphere. The air was humid, damp, constant, a subtle, noticeable flow around the senses. It mattered little. It mattered not. Because the various members waited, none the less. They waited with the utmost impatience. They waited and sighed. They waited and struggled to contain their anger. Their fear. Their concerns. Occasionally, a member would attempt to steal a glance into the room, just to quench their questions and doubts. Occasionally a member would walk into a nurse and deliver their righteous fury, their unending questions. Occasionally, a member would ask a passing doctor for a diagnosis, a report as to how Saito was doing, to ease their mind and soul. Occasionally, a member would kick a chair, a table or even a wall in frustration, having difficulties to contain themselves. In any case, their attempts and efforts were fruitless. Futile. Their impatience would have to fight onwards as the three figures, shrouding the empty hallway, continued their personal torture.

But Saito had his own fears and torture to contain. Looking aside, he noticed the rain pounding against the window. The sound was increasingly irritating. The smell was intolerable. The heat, the humidity was difficult and constant. But it seemed surprisingly beautiful to Saito Hikari. And from this unusual conclusion, he surmised that what people said was true. After an... accident, one does tend to think the world differently. Look at the world differently. Look at situations differently. Look at life differently. Saito had reached a conclusion as to his predicament. His paralysis. He wasn't comfortable thinking about it in any other way. He hadn't long to think about it. He didn't need to think about it. He didn't want long to think about it. He knew it was a controversial decision. He knew many would oppose it. But he also knew he could count on the person who mattered most to him. Looking aside, once again, he attempted to return to thinking about a trivial matter. But couldn't. He almost laughed. He almost cried. Something as mundane and simple as turning his head was perilously difficult now.

The waiting continued to struggle with the time. The activities of each individual member increased in quantity and frequency. They became increasingly emotive. Concerned. The longer they waited, the more they assumed the worst. The eldest member sat down, removed his glasses and clasped his face with his hands, resisting the urge to shout and scream in frustration. The youngest stood opposite and did nothing, said nothing, his arms crossed awkwardly, his legs weak and tired from the pacing. But he wouldn't allow himself comfort. Not while the member concerned remained separated from the waiting. From the other members. From their family. The female decided to comfort the eldest, placing her arm around his back, his cheek to hers. There seemed to be little else they could do as the torture continued.

Saito knew this. He knew that his family would do this to themselves. But he did nothing about it. He didn't call a nurse to reassure them. He didn't call a doctor to give them an evaluation. He didn't call for them himself. Because he was scared? Ashamed? Did he want them to suffer? No. He had nothing to be scared of. He had nothing to be ashamed of. He knew that. He did not want them to suffer. So one would assume the most logical conclusion. One would assume he simply did not wish to tell them. He didn't want them to know of his injuries. He didn't want to accept them himself. But that would be wrong, despite how plausible an escape it would be. Because he believed the injuries were pure, after the anger, after learning of them. He believed it was fair, right. He'd been injured in the face of war. He was a victim. But he didn't let them know how he was doing. Didn't want to meet them.

The various members began to become severely impatient, they became agitated, angry, they allowed their emotions to activate. The eldest grabbed a nurse and tried to force an answer. The youngest held back a doctor, attempting to help ease the situation. The female tried to appeal to the nurse's pity, her guilt. It didn't matter. The situation was soon pacified. The nurse continued on her way, The doctor returned to his desk. The various members sat, confused at the lack of lasting reactions. They sat, appalled, at the anticlimax and returned to their impatient waiting, once more. The nurse returned and entered Saito's room, ignoring the silent pleas from the waiting members. The door openly loudly.

If one was to peer into Saito Hikari, one would find a quiet mind. One who would seem almost content. One would almost assume take his somewhat severe mentality seriously. Of course, one would be wrong. Saito Hikari didn't know what was going on. He didn't know what to do. He didn't know what else there was to do. He wasn't content at paralysis. He just no longer had the energy nor the inclination for another panic, another struggle, another fuss.

"Hello?... are you okay?" Her voice was quiet, beautiful, distinctively contrasting from their earlier meeting. Saito closed his eyes and let the sweet voice haunt his mind before answering.
"I'm fine. Thanks for asking." Opening his eyes, he saw the nurse smile slightly. His smile was sweet. Her eyes shined with a bright glow. He'd never realised it before. At least, he'd never realise before the... accident. "Actually... could you do me a favour, please? I'd like you to bring some books. For my family."
"Of course. What would you like?" Saito's eyes closed again, his mind drowning in the absolute sweetness.
"For my father, I'd like a copy of his text 'The genetic-modifications of PET technology' It was in a PDA format and with voice-recognition so Saito alter it there should be a copy at the hospital library. For my mother, I'd like a recipe book on cheesecake He always wondered why his mother never made cheesecakes? and... for my brother, I'd like something more personal. In my quarters, at the barracks, there's a black box. Please bring it here It was small, whatever was inside could easily fit in the palm."
"Of course. I'll come back with the books."
"Thank you very much."

She began to exit and Saito closed his eyes, returning to his engulfment of the sweetness. Engulfed in the sound, the tone, the volume, the pitch. So he moved away from the science, the logic and dived further. Engulfed in the voice, the person, her face, her cheeks. He'd never have thought like this before. He'd never let himself become so... emotional. In many respects, he didn't want to be like this. In many respects, he did. He was confused. He liked being confused. 'Might as well be. Nothing else to do.' was a nice thought from his perspective. Of course he knew... or, at least, thought he knew why he felt like that. No matter. So he continued to close his eyes, rested and before he realised, he'd drifted back. His boots squelched once more.

His boots met the cess again. The sight was no less cleaner. The smell was no less tolerable. The sound was no less silent. And yet something was different. There was no helicopter. No other officers, medics, scientists, no commanding officer. No resting bodies and fixed smiles. There was no distance to walk. No trench at the horizon. No ladder to climb. He always already at the trench. He was already in his uniform. He was already gripping his insignia. He was already beside the sleeper. There was already that trail of sickly pale pink, orange flow. It had already infected the sleeper. Saito Hikari did not avoid his previous actions. He knelt down to clean the flow, to give the sleeper a little more dignity.

He hadn't noticed how afraid he was. He hadn't noticed, underneath the familiarity.

Something else was different. Saito had his long duffer coat. He was wearing his long duffer coat, just a little too long - like all of his clothes - with the 95th unit insignia stitched on the upper sleeve. It was a dull grey. The colour of the street. Of roads. Of pavements. Of artificiality. There were small threads missing, not easily noticeable. It looked messy, it made him look tall. Look thin. Made him look as though he straightened his back, his neck upright. There was something else different. He had his sniper rifle slung over his back. Judging by the weight, it was loaded. Roughly... five, six cartridges. Each with ten bullets. He'd made it a point to understand every aspect of his weapon. It clattered behind him. It was always relatively noisy. It never seemed to give him away, though. Nothing seemed to. He was good at his job.

He often wondered whether his job was the only thing he could do.

Knelling down to wipe the sleeper, it came as no surprise when it sprang upright again, grabbed his neck and a brief struggle ensured. Saito held out his hands as if in prayer and the sleeper gave no heed, forcing Saito to the opposite mud bank, once more. It cam as no surprise when the sleeper inched a hold on his neck. It came as no surprise when the sleeper whispered the next line.

"Strange friend... here is no cause to mourn..."
Saito refused to struggle this time but was overcome with fear. He still didn't understand, he thought the first as just a dream.
"My friend... this is not to... grieve."
"What do you want? Let go of me!" His voice with the same fear and twisted excitement.
"'The pity of war, the pity war distilled. Now men will go content with what we spilled'."
Again. The line was familiar. The line was confusing. The line was important. But still, Saito didn't let go of his fear. He became increasingly aware of it.
But answered as he had before.

"You don't approve."
"I... do not... approve." The sleeper answered as before.

The sleeper saw Saito's horror through his closed eyes, he saw the fear through his closed mind and released the grip. Saito gave into his reactions, his habits, and reached for his sniper rifle. Raised to eye level, Saito didn't even give the sleeper fair warning and fired the first shot. It pierced through his chest, a dull streak of grey splashed from the exit wound. The back of the spine. It crashed with a dull edge, lining the dirt floor, making nothing, adding nothing to the mud. Saito fired again without aiming and the shot streaked past the sleeper's thigh, ripping his trousers and burying itself against a barrel of wine. The dark red flew and landed near the unclear grey, a deep contrast. It shared more comparisons nearer the bodies. "The Yumlandians had wine...?" Electopian rations were extremely lucky to include a decent cup of tea. Saito discarded his thought and fired a final shot, impacted with the sleeper's forehead. A blank hole, a third unseeing eye peered towards Saito before the sleeper gave a harsh unseeing glare and the hole, spitting grey, slowly closed itself. Saito dropped the rifle and froze, staring.

They stood for what seemed as though it were hours. Staring intently. The sleeper's eyes never left their target. The sleeper looked with a fear intent. The sleeper looked with a purpose intent. The sleeper looked with consequence intent. But Saito looked with detail. And saw something else had changed. He saw an Electopian insignia emblazoned below the original Yumlandian. He saw the small text on the Yumlandian insignia. The only text that mattered to him. '95th unit'. It was a tradition. All countries followed it. All countries honoured it. It was almost humorous. Saito almost laughed and thought back to a previous statement. 'I often wondered whether my job was the only thing I could do?' He often wondered whether his job was his only reason for life.

The 95th units were sniper units. They had nicknames but endorsed only one. 'Hitman'. They weren't officially military units for any country. Because hitmen did dangerous things.

The sleeper broke the hours and held Saito once again, satisfied with the new knowledge pasted. So he continued with the last line.

"To die, to sleep, perchance to dream."

To die. The sleeper strengthened his hold on Saito, choking him. To sleep. Saito tried to release the grip but failed. He lashed out with his feet but found no target as the sleeper continued. Perchance to dream. Saito panicked, he cried out, he cried, he screamed, he wailed, he choked. He wept. The sleeper slept. Saito Hikari slept. Saito Hikari woke.

His eyes dashed to open and he saw the nurse began to exit the room. He'd just drifted to and back. In a matter of seconds. But it felt like hours...? He stood watching the sleeper for hours...? No matter, there was one more favour to ask.

"Oh, excuse me please?" That shocked him. It'd been a long time since he felt the necessity of being so polite.
"Yes?"
"... could you get me a poem please?"
She giggled a little first, most likely because of the surprise. Saito did not look like a literature critic, to say the least. It took a moment before she responded. "Pardon?"
"Any by Wilfred Owen." How did Saito know the name? "Actually, if you get a collection please."
"Of course. Will there be anything else?" His voice seemed to raise an note or two. It was a pleasant rise. She seemed pleased.
"Yes... there is. Do you have a name?"
"Carrie." Another giggle. Such a contrast to their first meeting.
"Ah... thank you very much, nurse Carrie." He giggled! Much to his despondency, of course.

So she exited and Saito almost threw himself back to the previous engulfment which promised so much comfort at such a time until he realised just how... tacky it was. So he delved into more important matters - what could be more important then your feelings? - and decided to concentrate on how to deliver his decision. He didn't want to tell his family to their faces. Not because he was a coward but... he wanted to avoid an argument. He didn't want to embitter his memories of them. A letter. Civilised. Appropriate. He remembered how the female member enjoyed reading letters. Then there were the various - are you going to think about Carrie? - doctors and medical concerns. Ultimately it was Saito's choice but... they'd make it difficult for him. Then there was his brother. What he wanted his brother to do. That would be difficult.

Then there was - what about Carrie? What about her? What are you going to do about her? - the sleeper. He wanted to know more about the sleeper.

Outside, the various members had been advised to proceed home and return the next day, "when Saito would be in a better condition for visits" before proceeding to write Saito's letter to them.

--

The coward in Saito prevailed. The letter was sent. In many respects, he felt ashamed. Not at the cowardice of sending a letter to deliver his decision but at the fact that, as a soldier, he allowed cowardice to succeed. In many respects, he was right to feel ashamed. In many respects, he was glad he was ashamed, rather the pain as opposed to ignorant bliss. In other respects, he had no need to feel ashamed. In other respects, he made the right decision. In other respects, this particular kind of cowardice was tolerated. He had no wish to lie and see his family so upset, no less because of news from Saito himself. He didn't want to see the various members weeping at the decision. He was content knowing about it, no doubt they would. He just felt more comfortable away from the emotion. In other respects, the cowardice was acceptable. He was never comfortable with excess emotion. So he continued to lie, and wait for the various members to come crashing down his door, demanding answers from a paraplegic.

They received the letter, finished with the excess emotion and clambered into the car, rushing to the hospital to demand answers from a paraplegic. The small, environmentally-friendly vehicle darted through traffic at slight speeds. No doubt the eldest member was regretting purchasing such an inappropriate vehicle concerned with speed. This particular frustration forced more violent tendencies to spring forth in the form of shouting at the other drivers, cursing them for their idiocy and inability to appreciate a mad doctor rushing to see their paralysed son to force an answer from them. The irony was, unfortunately, lost on the various members, with the youngest member revealing numerous insults in the form of hand gestures.

"Oh my God..."
"What is it, Yuuichirou?"
"... it's from the hospital. 'From the pen of Dr. Marcus, I write to inform you that your son, Saito Hikari, currently a patient at Heathcliff hospital, has need to contact you concerning a recent decision on his behalf.'"
"Why have you stopped?"

The tiny cart dashing side to side, swerving oncoming traffic, crossing lane to lane, they seemed ignorant to the various speed cameras to the sides of the lanes. Their only desire was to quench their queries and questions. They seemed equally oblivious to the shouts and screams from other drivers, matching the eldest's anger and fury with the youngest ability to portray mood and emotion by way of a simple hand gesture, adding some more original ones, often the product when an idea is mimicked constantly. Observing (but paying no heed) to them, the youngest received quite an education on matters considering offensive hand gestures.

"'Saito Hikari has requested an audience with yourselves at an unspecified period of time but adds a need of haste and urgency.'"
"Why does he want to meet us? Are the doctors going to let us in today?"
"Yuuichirou? What's wrong."
"... 'to discuss the issues and conclusions of a recent decision.'"
"What's the decision?"

As their impatience began to spark, the various members become oblivious to the speeding law enforcement vehicle in chase of the small, environmentally-friendly pod. The sirens gave a loud, invasive screech while the spinning lights gave way to more observational distractions. Almost diving into a truck, Yuuichirou allows his attention to pay appropriate heed to the sirens and glaring lights before releasing a loud curse and an immediate (and, consequentially) painful slam towards the brake pedal. Thus, almost forcing the law enforcement vehicle to charge into the Hikari pod, causing more trouble then worth. The irony was still absent to the various members.

"I can't believe it."
"What is it?"
"This can't be... I can't believe he'd do such a thing."
"What?"
"How the hell could he reach such an... illogical conclusion!?" What is he thinking?"

"Do you realise that you were thirty over the speed limit? Dr. Hikari? So he recognised him. That was something relatively new to the eldest member.
"Yes. We're on our way to the hospital, thank you very much." That biting hint of hostility hadn't gone amiss from the officer.
"... of course, sir. I'm gong to write you a ticket, wait there." Neither had that hint escaped the eldest's attention. It was increasingly frustrating. Why was it everywhere one goes, after an accident, everyone intends to either hold you back or make you wait? It was perplexing to the various members.
"Look, officer, could you hurry up please? We really are in a hurry." That plea for leniency was certainly not what the officer had expected, judging by the confused look upon his face. It would seem as though he had found something most perplexing himself.
"I'm sorry, sir, but the law is the law and I cannot-"
"Look, for God's sake, our son is going to kill himself! Hurry the fuck up!"

"'Saito Hikari has reached the decision of terminating his own life as a result of the accident. He had scheduled the termination to commence in six days.'"
"Oh dear Lord, what is he doing...?"
"Kill himself? No... surely there's some kind of mistake or-or-or something! I mean, they... they can't just let him!"

The look on the officer's face. He'd not expected such an answer - why should he? This was a simple speeder, just some moron who can't keep below fifty miles per hour. Why should he get mixed up in this... business? His initial reaction was to reach for his ticket pad and pull out his pen but something inexplicably innate stopped him. He stopped reaching for his tickets. He stopped reaching for his pen. He stopped thinking as a law officer. So what was there left to do? He let the members go. Without a word, without a whisper, he stretched out an arm, pulled a vague gesture from his hand and the Hikari pod stuttered before reaching an acceptable speed (whilst still in the vicinity of the officer, at least). The officer continued to stand, motionless and bleak. At the member's side of events, there was no more, no less activity from the various members. No more shouting, cursing, fighting. There was just one last thought for the remainder of the journey. It wasn't even a thought. Just a bland statement. Just something hollow and unmeaning. They just wanted him to be...

--

The trench was colder. The mud was frozen. The stream of bile was stricken with blue and green, along with the sickly reds and pinks. Looking to the side, with unusual ease, he noticed the ladder was covered with an unnatural ice. Hazy blue, sharp grey strikes, the occasional speck of mud distracting attention. It looks... painful. There would've been no way to climb it. There would've been no way to touch it. It looked as though it would've... burnt. The harsh coldness betraying the truth. The blistering heat forcing shivering pain through your blood. Looking above, the sky was a clear blue. There wasn't a cloud to block the perfection. One could not see the clouds. One could not see the sun. One could not the birds. Still the blistering cold prevailed through the beautiful perfection.

"So I'm asleep."

Saito reached forward and tipped his hat forwards slightly. The glare from the unseeing sun no longer tormented him. His grey duffer coat was closed. His rifle in a special holster by his right-hand side. The 95th insignia on the left upper sleeve looked blackened in the glittering sunlight. His clothes still looked slightly too big. His boots sunk into the frozen mud. He was wearing a red scarf. No wonder he wasn't cold. He had grey gloves on. A relatively darker shade of grey then the duffer coat. They were leather. They were too tight, only slightly. Casting a glare down, he peered at the frozen mud and found several shells. Gold-tipped, others soaked in red, one smeared with a black colouring. It took Saito a while to figure out just what it was. But, then again, it wasn't obvious.

Saito Hikari decided that was enough stalling. He decided it was time to proceed. It looked almost spectacular, almost graceful as he glided across the entrenchment, following a sickly pale line of bodily fluids and blood to find another familiar figure in a familiar vision. Unchanged aside from the frost found under his nose, the sleeper laid with his arms dangling the short distance. The snow had dug him into the wall and the bile had formed an undeniable mass on his uniform. Saito approach him. Saito didn't allow his gaze to falter. Saito didn't clean his uniform. Saito clicked. Saito loaded. Saito raised to eye level. The sound was undeniably recognisable, to any member of the 95ths. The sleeper rose and Saito refused to waiver. The sleeper opened his mouth.

"I... no longer want this."
Saito held the gun upright. Saito clutched it tightly.
"I... can give you deliverance."
Something was wrong. Something was drastically different.
"I... can give you the release you so crave."
His speech... cognitive speech. They were quotes no more.
"The undiscovered country, from whoms born, no man has returned."
A quote. In response. The undiscovered country. No man had returned. Death. Something was wrong. Saito forced back the hammer of the rifle.
"The undiscovered country, from whoms born, no man has returned."
The quote was wrong! Of course! Saito eased his finger on the trigger.
"The undiscovered countr-"

Saito Hikari fired his sniper rifle and closed his eyes. A sharp forceback shook Saito to take three steps backwards. 'I'm losing my skill here.' The bullet swam through the icy cold air, driving from the heat of the gunpowder. The powder burn let loose a spread at the barrel, igniting the journey of the bullet with specks of fiery red and orange, the bright sparks outshining. The bullet drove a path through the sleeper's chest, surging through the flesh and bone, vaguely attempting to find an exit. The bullet forged another exit, for the blood as black, lightless liquid cascaded forwards to meet eagerly with the ground, to return to the mud of the entrenchment. The sleeper's clothes became soaked in the lifeless ooze, spreading its taint across his chest while, at the same time as the flood, the bullet found its exit through the sleeper's spine. The loud snap and the vague figure lurched over, his knees crumbling over and meeting a rest with the sleeper's face digging into the frozen snow and dirt. Saito paused but hadn't stopped aiming.

He realised what was wrong. The sleeper's uniform. The 95th insignia. The war poem quotes. The sleeper wasn't another entity. Wasn't a conscience character. The sleeper didn't draw upon his own knowledge and experience. Looking back, it seemed terribly obvious to Saito. The sleeper was Saito's own memories, his own efforts to escape a war he fought on the basis of honour and duty. It was nothing to be ashamed of. Every soldier, at some stage or other, looks back and regrets war. Saito just... allowed it to consume him at this stage of his life. When he finally became caught up, affected by it. It was obvious. The sleeper didn't know the correct quotes. Saito didn't read Shakespeare. The sleeper never understood the trench, the significance. Saito never understood war. The sleeper couldn't kill Saito, he never could. Saito couldn't kill... himself.

He had let his thoughts take hold. Shifting his attention, he saw the sleeper rise again, wearing a parishioner's clothing. Before he could react, the sleeper took hold of Saito's neck and drove him into the mud bank. The sleeper placed a hand onto Saito's stomach and return the engagement as a bullet forced a path through. A scream as the path forced crimson to release and another as Saito's spine shattered, dragging memories. Satisfied at the return, the sleeper withheld his palm and swung Saito into the air, cast his head back and saw a bullet lodged into the mud bank surrounded with red colouring. Saito could've sworn the sleeper grinned before a final thrust back to the mud bank, ensuring yet another scream.

"To die, to sleep, perchance to dream."

To die. The sleeper strengthened his hold on Saito, choking him. To sleep. Saito tried to scream but failed. He tried to lash out with his feet but found no urge, no effort, no reaction as the sleeper continued. Perchance to dream. Saito panicked, he cried out, he cried, he screamed, he wailed, he choked, he wept and found no voice to cry, to scream, to wail, to choke, to weep. The sleeper slept. Saito Hikari slept. Saito Hikari woke.

"Saito? Saito? Wake up, your family is here." It was Carrie. He took a moment to breath before responding. He wanted to wipe the sweat from his forehead.
"Is everyone here? My father?"
"Everyone is here, Saito. I... got the things you wanted."
She laid out an arm, casting his attention to the table. An active PDA and a book were visible. 'The genetic-modifications of PET technology' and 'Baking the Perfect Cheesecake'. It was perfect.
"Thank you very much. Would you mind asking my brother to enter please?"
"Of course. Hope it all goes to plan."

She exited and Saito cloud overhear the extremely brief discussion nurse Carrie and his brother was having. Slowly, much slower then Saito had expected, the door began to open.

--

"There's nothing I can say, is there?"
"No."
"You stubborn son-of-a... for goodness' sake, how the hell did you reach such a... stupid conclusion?"

The youngest member was furious. But understood. The question was irrelevant. The answer was simple. But still, he allowed his emotions to overwhelm him, as he always did. In truth, Saito wouldn't have felt comfortable without the arguing. Without his brother's constant need to question everything with his innate curiosity. The walls seemed less... white now. The halls seemed to echo less with the sound of rushing shoes and high-heels. Outside seemed to matter that little bit less when the youngest member was in the room. In many respects, Saito thought this was right. Family was important to him... well, at least, most of his family. The Hikaris were close. That made things easier on them all.

"I didn't. I felt it was... the right thing to do."
"... when?"
"Pardon?"
"When? How?"
"That's why I wanted to see you first."

This was difficult. This was the worst thing about his plan. His decision. He didn't want some unknown quack. He wanted his brother. The man he trusted the most in life. The one he could always count on. Only... this time, he wondered whether he could rely on him now. Saito wouldn't have blamed him. This was just as difficult, if not more, on him. One could ask, how could Saito request such a thing? What kind of person would the youngest member be if he agreed? One would have to assume that questions such as those did not matter as such. Not at a time like this. Saito had to believe that. There was nothing else to cling onto now.

"I want you to help me."
"How?" The hasty reaction to such a statement. He never changes.
"I want you to kill me."

But there was a silence. In many respects, one could tell this was a clam before a storm but, for the moment, the silence told tales. Maybe he had changed? How was one supposed to respond to such a request? His face was pale, shifting colours and whites and reds, amalgamating, swirling dashes drifting through, draining his face of colourful emotion. His mouth was open, only slightly. Saito almost thought he saw a slight sweat drop slide down his cheek. He thought he almost saw a sign of weakness. Not that he would blame him for that, either. He was asking for a murderer. But an honourable one.

"What?"
"I want your help. I want you to kill me. I need you to kill me."
"... what the hell? Wha-wha-what the hell do you mean? N-no! No! No, I won't do it! I'm not going to kill my own brother!"
"Please, I'm asking you to help me."
"Why-why don't you get a doctor or a nurse or somebody else!? Why me? Why do you want me to do it? Why the hell do you want to do this anyway?"

He looked towards the door and thought about storming outside, infuriated. He thought about screaming the corridors with loud steps and escaping the question as far as possible. He thought about ignoring the entire conversation and starting again. But he knew it was solve nothing. Because he wanted an answer so much. He wanted to understand why. He looked for answers. He looked for the reality. He looked for the logic and thought processes. He looked for faith in his brother's decision. He looked for faith in his brother. The walls seemed, to Saito, duller and duller. The sound outside stopped in its entirety. No more clanging footsteps or arguing couples or screams of agony or pain or suffering or peace.

"Brother, please... look at me." It took a while. The youngest member's head slowly drifted to the side. "I'm dying here. Here, in this body. This is a decision already determined. Who am I here but some... cripple who can't live anymore?"
"You're... a better man then anyone else if you choose to live."
Saito chuckled through weak breath. "Very much you. You always did like that emotive stuff. But you know I can't believe that. It's a nice argument, but weak."
"... I won't do it. I can't. I'm sorry but I'm not a murderer-"
"You'd have full extradition!" That was a mistake. The youngest member didn't mean that.
"I won't kill my own brother."

There was an awkward pause. One could tell that the youngest member was going to leave the room soon. The walls began to retain their colour. The sound of chattering nurse, refusing to take the aura of death and demise around them seriously as they gossiped and complained, began to feel enhanced. The smell seemed increasingly overt again... and equally intolerable. Which struck a chord of familiarity with another place, close to his heart. The changes seemed to return to the youngest member too, as he sniffed the air and rubbed his eyes from stray, opening tears.

"I'm nothing here. You know that. I'm a soldier. I have my dignity, my honour. Let me die with dignity and honour."

With that, the youngest member began to exit.

"Could... could you please bring mother in?"

The door closed.

--

She was crying. It was strange. Saito never felt entirely close with his mother, but he loved her. But, seeing her crying, releasing her sorrow in floods of tears, he felt so little compassion. Because he knew she didn't understand. It wasn't her place to understand. In relation, she was unimportant. She played no part in his plan. He didn't want her to. He'd always distanced himself, been independent. He was never comfortable dealing with his parents, but in particular his mother. In all honesty, this... act was just to reassure her. This book was just a gimmicky parting gift. But she cried and Saito thought it necessary to comfort her.

"Mother... it's for the best."

That was it. That was all he could say. There was nothing else to say. There was nothing else he could say. There was nothing else he wanted to say. Still, the relentless tears flowing down. Her make-up began to smudge. Her dignity began to shatter. Her head began to drop. What else was there to say? She wasn't... important. There was nothing for her to do. All she did was... be emotional.

Taking a moment to pause, Saito thought about the line he said. 'Mother... it's for the best.' Most of it was irrelevant to her. One word stood out from the rest. 'Mother'. Such a formal address. She never did approve. She never did understand the formality between her son and herself. It's not an unfair thought, either. In truth, Saito never understood. He just never felt comfortable around her. They weren't close. At times, he used to admire... he used to crave the closeness the youngest member had with their mother. At times, he just wished it was different.

What else was there to do now? Saito looked perplexed, detached, unemotional. The female member looked saddened, distraught, broken. There was nothing else. She'd been given the news. She didn't argue. She didn't fight. She should've but didn't. There was nothing else to do. So he did what he always did. Did what he always did to her. He cast her aside. He called for the nurse, who escorted her outside, tears and all. She cried in protest, tried to push her way back in only to find it fall on unhearing ears and stopped by clutching arms.

'The last five minutes were... unusual.'

So, before the door closed fully, Saito cried out to his father.

--

This is it. Last set piece. After this one... checkmate. After this final event, all would be complete. This was a pinnacle part. Nothing could go wrong here. He had to convince his father. Otherwise... there'd be no other option. Once again, the room began to feel... colder. The walls were darker, less defined. The smell was loose, drifted away, underneath the door, out of the window, it didn't matter. The echoes died down once more, the chattering and gossiping merely nothing. Inside the personal hell, Saito Hikari hugged the bed cover in his paralytic state as his father, the eldest member, paced around the room as he did at times of awkwardness. Numerous times, numerous requests to his father, asking him to sit always supplied the same answer, same monotonous tone. "I prefer to stand." He held the PDA in his hand, switched off, and closed his eyes as he always did in thought.

His mind was blank. Nothing came to him.

"Son... I'm... pleased that you would think of me and my research at such a time but... I will not sacrifice my child for this. It's just a job. Human life is more important."
"Father, please, think about it. My life is over. At the end of the journey, I'm at my end. This way, you can keep Saito Hikari 'alive'."
"... I don't even know whether this will work."

Saito couldn't decide. Did he... accept it? Did he want this? Had he conceded? One couldn't tell. The eldest member had a remarkable ability to hide emotion, thought, opinion. It was one of the attributes Saito had received from his father. In many occasions, it was annoying. Intolerable. Difficult. In other instances, it was useful. Funny. Playful. Practical jokes were both easily executed and, best of all, easy to escape blame for. Saito Hikari's time at the barracks was something he'd enjoyed heavily. One of those memories he'd never abandon. Never forget. Like the first time he rode a bike. Like the first time he kissed his girlfriend. Like the first time he received a PET from his father.

He'd only just realised he let his mind drift and decided to come crashing back to reality for an answer. The eldest member had not wanted to disturb Saito's thinking. An answer had been reached by his father. He held the PDA active in his hand, the blue screen glowed an eerie glow and started to invade Saito's attention, unable to draw his eyes away from the screen. From the sentence. From the key fact in his theory. His argument. His attempted assisted suicide.

The line read 'Extracting DNA strands from the subject, one can implement it into the NetNavi and create one with the same basic morals and thought processes as the original subject. Thus allowing a 'true human relationship' to develop between the Navi and the operator.'

"Why do you want to die, son?"
"Because I'm a broken man, father. Look at me, look at what you see."
"... I see my son. The man I wish to protect with all my ability." How cold. Saito hadn't expected such a hollow statement, no matter how much he knew it was true. There was a brief chuckle before an answer. If looking back, one would argue that this conversation was very much akin to that between the brothers.
"You see someone who has lost. You see someone who has lost their life in war. Someone who needs to do this. I want to die. I want to leave you something of me. I want you to do this, to become a great scientist, to be happy that I helped you."
"I see someone who is doing this for the wrong reasons."
"You see someone who has nothing left. I can't even move my neck. I just want to do something useful at the end of it all."
"... you realise it won't be you, in the PET? It won't be you, just some... mechanical clone."
"'Death comes for us all. I choose to come to it.'"
"Nothing I say will change anything, will it? You die at the end, with or without my blessing."
"... yeah. I suppose that's the best way to put it. But... I'd rather-"
"Die with my blessing. Then you have it."

There was a solemn moment. It was almost... tacky. Horridly corny. Saito almost expected a sudden rush to a hug. Fortunately it didn't come. Only a slight smile the eldest member reserved for moments of pure clarity. The walls hadn't retained their colour yet. The sound was still as muted as before. The smell had changed. It became pure. It looked white. Tasted white. Sounded like white. It was a beautiful smell, reminded him of someone very recent. So it was finished. Soon, his life would be over and he could finally hand over a gift to his brother, wherever he accepted or not. It just pained him to know he wouldn't help. But he didn't blame. No one can be to blame for denying murder.

The father exited after realising Saito had let his mind drift again, drift back to sleep. So, clutching an altered copy of his text on PDA, 'The genetic-modifications of PET technology' and left, closing the door quietly.

--

The trench was cold and warm. The trench was dry and damp. The trench changed. It was strange, because the trench had a finite sense. There was a sign on the mud bank, scrawled in dirt and colourings. 'The end welcomes careful drivers'. Saito allowed a childish giggle to spring forth. It was relatively humorous. Saito seemed to neglect a fact, one he grasped after a second glance. The colouring was red. A strange, strong, liquid dye. Obviously he knew what it was and felt the humour leave. To the opposite mud bank, there was a stream of bile, climbing vertically, escaping the trench in all its glorious pink-and-red majesty. On the floor of the trench was a surprisingly clean floor, neither shot nor shell littered the ground with all its bold imagery and poignant obviousness. A cursory sweep upwards revealed one of the most beautiful sunrises Saito had ever caught the sight of. Streaks of reds and oranges flew across the hollow sky, drifting and swimming in teaming hordes of absolute wonder and magnificence.

Saito's uniform had changed. He still wore the grey duffer coat. The slight tipped hat. The black boots. Tight leather gloves. His sniper rifle still slung by his side. It all still looked slightly big, slightly overwhelming on him. Only one thing had changed. The 95th insignia was absent. Missing. Gone. Was it torn off? Carefully etched out? Was it a new coat? It didn't matter. Because it no longer mattered to Saito Hikari - or, at least, it wouldn't. The 95ths are no longer part of his life. It took a while, amidst the settled mental confusion before Saito allowed himself to draw back to the trench and saw the sleeper sat at a metallic table. It was rectangular. Slightly small. The sleeper, still decomposing but lacking the initial inclusion of pink-red bile, was wearing a white suit, white tie, white shirt, white trousers, white shoes. He was sitting perfectly upright. With a slight hand, he beckoned Saito forth.

Attempting to sit down, he found the rifle clattering in his way. So he removed it. And the dialogue proceeded.

"I'm glad you finally dropped it." His speech was smooth, careful, accurate.
"What's with the free speech? Where's the disjointed talk, the war poem quotes?"
"Do you talk like that?" Saito almost forgot just who the sleeper was.
"Why am I back here?"
"I won't let you die yet. Not now, not like this. Not while you have received a gift." The sleeper won't let me die? But the sleeper was... Saito. Wasn't he?
"What... do you mean?"
"I won't let you die until it is your time. You will not enter the kingdom of Heaven by ceasing before it is your time."
"... 'Faith is a test. Therefore life is a test'."
"Quoted?"
"Another officer. Khai Trung Le.
"Correct. Therefore it is not your time."
"Who are you to patronise me like this? You - I am not a member of the faith, I do not believe."
"No, you have respect and have done everything you can to follow such respect. It is not your time. You will not enter the kingdom of Heaven by ceasing before your time. God has a path set for all. Life is a test. Faith is a test. Your injuries are a test." What was the sleeper doing?
"... but I am making a sacrifice. If God is merciful then He will forgive me."
"But you are dying because you feel you have lost your dignity. Faith is more important."
"I don't have faith!"
"No, you have respect. Therefore you must respect the faith at this time, more so then any other time." The table shifted in colour, matching the blood.
"If I was a member of the faith, I would not fight in war. I would not kill."
"All have sinned. All must accept the fact that they have sinned. All must allowed God into their lives. All must allow God to forgive them for their sins. Murder is a sin. You are murdering yourself."
"Then the contradiction is present - because God will forgive my sins, and I accept that my murder is a sin."
The sleeper didn't respond. The silence was bitter. The cold air seeped into the trench, biting, clawing, gnawing into Saito's head. A headache sprang into place and he let a sign of weakness through as he cradled his head before speaking down.
"You are attempting to use faith to stop me and yet you assume that respect and belief mean the same - it is a weak argument. It is pointless. You have attempted to stop me at every stage. Who are you?"
"I would've thought that was obvious."

The sleeper dissipated, the table dissipated, the trench dissipated and, soon enough, nothing remained but Saito Hikari. And then he woke.

--

This would be short.

"Saito? Saito, wake up please. There's someone here to see you."

A beautiful voice drifted Saito back to his reality. It was nurse Carrie, looking as stunningly wondrous as ever. "It's your brother. I'll send him in." He walked in, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He walked in and the walls dimmed, darkened. The sound began to mute, to quieten. The smell remained, for the time being.

"Saito. How are you?" Such a hollow question. Such a... hospital question. "Sorry. I just wanted to say, you were right. Dignity, that's it. Dignity and honour... I'll do it."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'll... help you finish it."
There was a pause. But it was still so short. Because time felt as thought it was finished.
"Thank you. I have... something for you." He let his gaze cross to the table, where nurse Carrie had left a small black box whilst he was asleep. The youngest member opened it to find a blue PET, embroided with the Hikari insignia. A gold circle, filled with a deep red and black triangles met at the centre with a singular line. It was slightly heavier then standard models. It had no NetNavi.
"Thanks." There was a slight hint of disappointment, not that Saito blamed him.
"Pay attention, you idiot. You'll get you your Navi, I promise you."
The youngest member could only mouth a thank you before leaving. He wanted this to be short.

--

This would be short. The end was nigh.

"This is it. Saito, shall we begin?"
"... yeah. Let's get this show on the road, kids." A slight chuckle again. He'd learnt to chuckle more.
"Pull the plug."

The table was cold, not that Saito even realised. If he could crane his neck down, he would've noticed the various tubes and plugs in his body. But that didn't matter as the numerous doctors and scientists circled the paraplegic with forced thinking and intent. No one could understand his notes. In any case, no one would agree to such a foolish experiement. That didn't matter either. From what little view he had left, Saito could see nurse Carrie apply a mask to his face and a gentle kiss to his forehead. That didn't matter either. By the end, all would be well. All would be correct. He began to feel drowsy. He began to feel unimportant. He began to feel the end was nigh, as it should be. In many respects, Saito didn't want to die like this, strapped down to a metallic bed in a hospital. In many respects, he did. This way, he was doing the right thing. He began to sleep. He began to drift.

Saito had attended a full circle.

--

"Netto! Wake up, you're going to be late!"
"Wha...? Oh, just ten minutes, Rockman!"
"No, now. Get up, good lord, still as lazy as ever - today's important!"
"Why?"
"That Mr. Higure's coming in to give a presentation - come on, everyone's there already!"
"... the rate you're going at, you'd think he was the WWW or something, he'll be there in ten minutes."
"You're twenty-seven and yet you're still so lazy. Tsk tsk..."

Rockman set off his alarm at the highest pitch and frequency, driving Netto out of his bed and onto the floor painfully, much the same as every morning...

--