Chapter 10: Ijuuin… Netto.
“Hikari Netto!” Enzan gasped. He stared at the figure walking away from him on the opposite side of the street. Two men in suits were walking with him, but all Enzan could see was the back of Netto’s head and the roller skates hanging off of his backpack.
“Enzan-sama, what’s wrong?” Rockman asked.
“I have to catch him!” Enzan said. He shot forward from his frozen position and into the busy street. One car honked at him as he ran by, and another passed so close it brushed against the edges of his vest.
“Enzan-sama!” Rockman cried in alarm.
“Netto!” Enzan yelled, ignoring everything around him. He was only focused on the boy in from of him. “Netto, wait!”
The brown-haired netbattler was too far ahead on the sidewalk to hear Enzan’s cries. One of the men he was walking with was saying something to him, and he seemed to be listening intently.
“Netto! Matte!” Enzan yelled. “Wait!”
People, buildings, and objects flew passed him. As he ran, colors around him began to blur, but the only thing Enzan cared about was catching Netto. Rockman called to him several times, but he barely heard it. All that mattered was chasing Netto. He had to catch him. He felt like he had been running for hours, yet he couldn’t seem to get any closer to the brown-haired boy.
“Netto!” he yelled. His voice would give out if he had to chase him any farther. Miraculously, the boy in front of him slowed to a stop and looked back. Enzan kept running until he was a few meters away before stopping. He tried to speak, but all he could do was hunch over and gasp for breath.
“Can I help you?” Netto asked, bending down slightly to look at the gasping boy.
Enzan tried to think as his brain screamed for oxygen. There was something wrong about Netto’s voice and the way he phrased his words. He looked up to inspect Netto—
—and froze. Netto was wearing blue pants, a button-up yellow shirt, and expensive sneakers. The clothes looked custom tailored, but that wasn’t what had caught Enzan’s attention. What caught his attention was the symbol on Netto’s red headband, tied loosely around his neck. It was round and the outline was black with a striking white lightening bolt traveling down the middle.
“Ijuuin-sama, we must be going soon,” one of the men said, looking at Enzan as if he was a sun-baked worm.
“Just a second,” Netto argued back.
Enzan blinked. He had nearly answered the man out of instinct. It can’t be…
“Is there something you want?” Netto asked, turning back to Enzan. His voice was polite but kind, and curiosity shone in his eyes.
“I—You—Please forgive me,” Enzan said haltingly. “I thought you were someone else. I’m sorry for disturbing you.” Without another word, he turned and fled.
Netto blinked at his retreating back. “That was weird…”
“Netto-kun, what was that all about?” a voice asked from his PET.
“I’m not sure, Blues,” Netto admitted. “There was something odd about him… I think he knows me somehow.”
“He did say it was a mistake,” Blues pointed out.
“Yes… But how did he know my name?” Netto wondered.
“Ijuuin-sama, the meeting,” his guard said pointedly.
“Oh, right,” Netto replied, turning away. Still, his mind wandered to the boy with the white-topped hair. He seems familiar somehow… but why?
-- -- --
Enzan fingered the Life Aura battle chip in his hand mindlessly. The green park, with its lush trees and beautiful view, went unseen by him, although his eyes were staring right at all of it.
That symbol… Enzan swallowed. Somehow the idea had never occurred to him, but it did make sense in a twisted way.
“Daijoubu desu ka, Enzan-sama?” Rockman asked worriedly. “Are you all right?”
Blues’ symbol. It had to be. Enzan had costume designed it and registered it on the navi database himself. The navi database’s purpose was to simply make sure no two costume navis had the same symbol, because the design represented the navi’s personal and individual programming. Exceptions were made to symbols passed through families, associates, and navi’s designed with nearly identical data, but he knew no one else had that symbol. It belong to Blues, and in this reality, Blues belonged to Netto. Ijuuin Netto.
“He has my life, Rockman,” Enzan said softly. “That’s the only explanation for it. My family, my status, my job, even my navi… he has everything.”
“Ijuuin Netto?” Rockman asked.
Enzan resisted to snap something about stating the obvious again. Instead, he merely nodded, staring at nothing. He felt like nothing was real, not even his body. If he blinked, it could all disappear, to become nothing more than a dream. Only the Dream Aura chip’s familiar, solid shape in his hand told him otherwise.
Rockman was silent. He had no idea what to do. Enzan had claimed to be Ijuuin Enzan, not Hikari Enzan, and that Ijuuin Netto was actually Hikari Netto. Yet what had just occurred seemed to prove otherwise. But if Enzan was wrong, he couldn’t possibly know of someone named Netto who had the family name he claimed was his… could he?
“I worked hard for my life,” Enzan said thoughtfully. “It wasn’t easy. But Blues and I—my navi and I got through it all. Now all that work means nothing. I don’t even have Blues at my side anymore.”
“You care about this Blues a lot, don’t you?” Rockman asked quietly.
“He made me who I am today,” Enzan replied. He pulled out his PET and looked Rockman in the face. “Without him I would still be nothing. I never really thanked him for that, or told him how much he really means to me. Now it’s too late.” Enzan closed his eyes. “I want to go home, Rockman.”
His tone of voice was flat, almost as if he were reading out of a book or explaining a simple problem, but Rockman could sense the pain behind his words. His emotions reflected in his eyes as well, when they were open.
“You still can,” Rockman said, surprising himself. When Enzan opened his eyes to look at the blue navi in confusion, Rockman hurriedly continued. “We can still figure out what’s going on, right? Isn’t that why you entered the N1 Grand Prix, to find out why you’re here instead of my operator? Maybe once we figure that out, we can find a way for you to go home.”
Enzan sighed. “Don’t you see it’s hopeless, Rockman? Even if I could prove that I’m not crazy, that still doesn’t mean I could find a way back home. It just doesn’t make any sense!”
He would have gone on, but something small and rather painful slammed into the side of his head at that moment. Enzan yelped with pain, scrambled to his feet, and rubbed his head, frantically looking around for what had attacked him. A few meters away sat a red ball, looking very innocent in the grass.
“I’m terribly sorry about that.”
Enzan blinked as a man with red hair cascading down his back bent down to scoop the ball up. He threw it into the air and caught it, smiling slightly at Enzan.
Enzan nearly dropped his PET. “Hino Ken?”
The man looked surprised. “How do you know my name?”
“You’re a World Three agent!” Enzan declared. “You’re a net criminal! What on earth are you doing here?”
“World Three? Net criminal?” Hino Ken said in astonishment. He started laughing loudly. “Who told you such crazy things?”
Enzan’s jaw dropped. “But…”
“You’re crazy,” Hino Ken replied, tossing the ball into the air and catching it again. “I’ve never heard of World Three, and it’s not nice to go around accusing people you don’t even know of being net criminals.”
Enzan’s shock quickly melted into anger. “Yes, you are! Rockman, tell me about World Three,” he said, holding up his PET.
“World Three?” Rockman said, sounding confused. “I’ve never heard of it, Enzan-sama. As far as I know, no such group exists.”
“That can’t be…” Enzan breathed.
“There, you see? That navi knows what he’s talking about,” Hino Ken said smugly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
Hino Ken turned to leave, and Enzan made no move to stop him. He couldn’t; it felt like his feet were rooted to the ground. No World Three? How is that possible?
Hino Ken suddenly stopped. Bending down, he picked something up from the grass. “Is this yours?” he asked, holding out a battle chip.
Enzan snatched it away and looked at it. The Dream Aura chip gleamed in his hands, and he closed his fist around it protectively.
“It seems strange that a kid like you could afford such a rare chip,” Hino Ken commented, watching Enzan carefully.
“I didn’t steal it!” Enzan snapped.
“Nobody said you did,” Hino Ken replied. “A loan from Higure?”
“Yes,” Enzan answered without thinking. He gave Hino Ken a suspicious look. “How did you know?”
Hino Ken studied Enzan’s white-topped hair. “Don’t you remember?”
“Remember?” Enzan repeated.
“Higure never gives away rare chips, not even as loans.” Hino Ken smiled at Enzan’s shocked look and bowed slightly. “I’ll see you at the N1.”
Higure never gives… “Hey, wait!” Enzan called, starting after Hino Ken. He was too late. The red-headed man had already disappeared from his sight, and Enzan had no idea where he could have gone.
“That was strange,” Rockman said slowly.
Enzan was silent as he weighed his options. “Let’s go home, Rockman,” he said finally. “Haruka must be worried about us.”
Enzan spent the walk home deep in thought. He nearly went the wrong way twice, and Rockman had to call out to keep him from crossing a busy street on more than one occasion. The appearances of both Netto and Hino Ken were his main focus. Netto had seemed different, and once he thought about it, he realized why. With Enzan’s life and experiences, Netto would be a more mature, responsible, and generally capable person. Yet much of his personality seemed to be the same, if Enzan could rely on the brief contact he had with the younger boy.
And then there was Hino Ken. His appearance had thrown out everything Enzan had assumed. Even though he had denied being the World Three agent Enzan had known, he seemed to know things he couldn’t have. Unless he knew Higure personally, his comment didn’t make any sense. And the way he had expected Enzan to know it too—no, to remember it. It was almost as if Hino Ken knew something was wrong. And if he knows something about all of this, that’s my best chance, Enzan realized. Hino Ken’s remark about the netbattling competition gave Enzan hope. It was a small hope, but he clung to it. It was the most encouraging thing he had heard since the first morning he woke up in this reality.
The second he stepped through the door, he was attacked once again by Haruka. By now he was used to it and almost enjoyed it. She seemed overjoyed to see his newly white hair, and continued to fuss over him throughout dinner. She had made a curry meal, claiming it was Enzan’s favorite. Enzan had never even seen it before, but it smell good and tasted even better. Still, his mind was dwelling on everything that had happened during the day, and he lapsed into silence several times.
“Enzan?” Haruka asked worriedly. She leaned across the table and touched his forehead. “Are you feeling okay?”
Enzan pulled away from her hand in surprise. “I-I’m fine,” he said. “There’s just a lot of things on my mind.”
Haruka smiled brightly. “Well, if you need any help or just someone to listen, let me know. It’s what I’m here for.”
Enzan smiled back, surprised that it came easily. “I will, Haru—Mama.” His eyes went wide as he said the words, and he stared down at his plate. What in the world had possessed him to say that?
“Thank you for dinner,” he said quickly, standing up.
Haruka clapped her hands and cleared her throat.
Enzan smiled ruefully. “Gochiousama deshita,” he said grudgingly, saying the traditional phrase said after a meal. Now he knew where Rockman had gotten his insistence on traditional politeness. He left in a hurry after that, climbing the stairs as fast as he could.
“What a day,” Rockman said as Enzan entered his room.
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Enzan replied. He set the PET in its charger on the desk and prepared for bed. “Tomorrow will be even better.”
Rockman groaned loudly, but his eyes were twinkling. “Oyasumi nasai, Enzan-sama,” he said. “Good night.”
Enzan studied the navi for a moment. “Oyasumi, Rockman.”
He’s happy, Enzan realized as he climbed into the bed. He can now finally show his true self.
That was an accomplishment, and one Enzan was proud of. The last thing he wanted to leave Rockman in pain by something “he” had done.
The image of Netto’s headband, Blues’ symbol standing out against the red material, flashed through his mind. Blues… Enzan turned over to his side. This isn’t my life or my reality, but still… are you happy with Netto? Does he treat you well, better than I ever did? Are you happy there with him? Blues… I miss you. Enzan sighed, staring out into the darkness with wide eyes. He knew what he wanted more than anything else. More than his job as vice president of IPC, his home, his accomplishments, his reputation, or his father. He wanted Blues back by his side.
Author’s notes: The Japanese use the metric system, unlike the Americans (myself included in that bunch). Whenever I refer to measurements, it will be using the metric system. This does nothing to diminish my belief that the metric system is inherently evil in its design and is intended for my personal downfall. Gochiousama deshita is the traditional phrase said after a meal, complimenting the good food (my textbook does a much better job on the translation than my dictionary).