Chapter 20: World Three, Beef, and Ghosts, Oh My!
Enzan walked down the street in silence. The sun had set an hour ago, and the dark streets were lit up by the bright lights of businesses and shops on the sides of the street. Enzan had been walking for a long time. He had walked down this street five times because he had nowhere else to go. The last thing he wanted was to go back to the Hikari house.
“Enzan-sama, it’s getting late,” Rockman said.
Rockman had spoken to him a few times, but each time he tried to strike up a conversation, Enzan cut it short. He didn’t want to talk.
“I know,” Enzan said.
“Enzan-sama, Hikari-san will get worried.”
Rockman bit his lip. He knew Enzan wanted to be left alone, but it was dangerous for him to roam the streets like this. He also knew Enzan was upset, and he couldn’t bare the thought of the white-haired boy in pain.
“Tell me what you’re thinking, please,” Rockman begged.
“Did I do this?” Enzan responded.
“What?” Rockman asked, confused.
Enzan made a sweeping gesture. “Did I cause this? Is my mere presence the only difference between my home and this reality? Am I to blame for all of this?”
“No!” Rockman cried, horrified. “Enzan-sama, you told me that sometimes things just happen, and there’s nothing you can do. Your existence as Hikari Enzan in this reality may be the only difference you can see that would affect things, but that can’t be true.”
“I refuse to believe that Hikari-hakase in my reality would turn to the drink because things were bad,” Enzan replied.
“Maybe not, but there are factors you don’t know and can’t possibly know in this reality that makes him the way he is,” Rockman said. “You’ve only been around for the past twelve years. A lot of things could have influenced him to do what he does now.”
Enzan sighed. “I know,” he said wearily. “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know how I got here, so I don’t know how to get back home. There are so many things I can’t control and don’t know. I’ve lost my only link to my reality—Hino Ken—and I don’t know where else to look. The N1 Grand Prix ended up being a dead end. I’m helpless, Rockman. I hate being helpless.”
Rockman was speechless for a moment. That was the most he had heard Enzan say all day. “I know it seems hopeless, but you can’t give up,” Rockman said quietly. “My operator thought he couldn’t do anything, so he gave up. I know you’re different from him, Enzan-sama. With your life experiences, you have to be a different person than he is.”
“So even if my presence did change things for the worst in this reality, it’s not my fault,” Enzan said skeptically.
Rockman nodded eagerly before he realized Enzan couldn’t see the PET in its carrier. “My operator isn’t you, Enzan-sama. His life changed him into Hikari Enzan, and your life made you Ijuuin Enzan. Those are two different people who barely have anything in common.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Enzan said. “But you have a good point, I’ll admit.”
“You shouldn’t blame yourself so much, Enzan-sama,” Rockman said.
Enzan was about to reply when something stopped him short. “What in the world…” He cut himself off and yanked the PET out of its carrier. “Rockman, do you see that man? The one by the bus stop?”
Rockman squinted. “Yes, Enzan-sama. Why?”
Rockman’s eyes went wide when he saw what Enzan had seen. “H-He’s flickering!”
“Yeah…” Enzan started walking towards the man.
“Enzan-sama, what are you doing?” Rockman cried. “Are you crazy?”
“What’s the matter, scared?” Enzan asked. “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
“Enzan-sama!” Rockman hissed.
Enzan ignored his navi and walked closer to the man. “Hey! Ojiisan!” he called.
The man did not respond. He stared at the road ahead, glancing at his watch a few times. He looked completely real except for the moments when he would fuzz out of focus and blink in-and-out of sight.
Enzan frowned. “Ojiisan! Are you all right?” he tapped the man on the shoulder. Like a TV being shut off, the man disappeared.
Rockman emitted a small, frightened noise. “It—it’s a—a ghost!” he chattered.
Enzan backed away slightly. “That was strange,” he said, his voice shaking.
“We should go home,” Rockman suggested quickly. “We should go home right now!”
Enzan was about to take Rockman’s advice when he spotted something. Frowning, he bent down to get a closer look. There was a small black device lying on the ground. It looked brand new and very high-tech. The ground flickered around it in a small circle, resembling the behavior of the man earlier. Enzan picked the device up and found the off-switch.
“Enzan-sama, can we go?” Rockman begged.
“I think I’ve just figured it out,” Enzan breathed, standing up. “Rockman, that was no ghost we saw. He wasn’t even real.”
“Are you sure?” Rockman asked, confused. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“I’ll explain later,” Enzan said, pocketing the device. “Right now, let’s go home. We have a lot of work to do.”
… … …
“So, where is this meeting, anyway?” Count Elec asked, folding his arms.
Saloma sighed. “We’re almost there. I know it’s a long way to go, but we have to be extremely careful. Immersion could attack us at any time.”
“Aren’t you being a bit paranoid?” Madoi asked, hurrying to keep up with Saloma.
“Immersion has managed to kidnap several people, some of who were under guard at the time,” Saloma replied shortly. “We have no doubt they could get us if they wanted.”
“Good point,” Mahajarama said.
“Here we are,” Saloma said, pausing in front of a door. She plugged Woodman into the jack next to the door for a few minutes, watching the unlock sequence on her PET. “This building may not look like it, but it has some of the most advance and tight security in Japan.”
“I guess being a Net Agent has it advantages,” Elec commented.
“We are sanctioned by the government.” Saloma unplugged Woodman and pressed a few buttons on the keypad. “Let’s go,” she said as the door opened.
The three World Three members followed Saloma into the bright room. It was a sharp contrast from the dark hallway, and Madoi and Elec had to cover their eyes. Mahajarama, undisturbed, silently walked around the two and studied the room.
Madoi finally grew used to the light and looked around. “There’s a lot more Net Agents then I thought,” she commented.
Elec quickly removed his own hand from his eyes and followed her gaze. Sitting around a large table were several adults. There was even a little boy playing with a toy car at one seat.
“Those are the people you got to help us?” cried a voice. “It’s World Three!”
“Hikawa-san, please calm down,” Saloma said.
Madoi cringed, recognizing Hikawa Seiji, a worker at Akihara’s water plant and someone she had dealt with in the past. She waved her fingers at him, and he turned away in disgust.
“They aren’t Net Agents,” Mahajarama said quietly.
“Then what are they doing here?” Elec asked.
“They’re parents waiting for news of their children.”
Madoi and Elec fell silent, seeing the others in the room in a new light. Hikawa’s face was covered with unshaven stubble. He clothes were crumbled and he looked like he hadn’t slept in some time. A woman was wiping at her eyes and staring at her hands while a man sitting next to her was talking with her softly. Another man, whom Elec recognized immediately as Ayanokouji, the president of Gabcom, looked to be in the same shape as Hikawa. Yet another man was sitting at the table, but he had his head buried in a folder. The boy sitting in the large seat wasn’t playing with the car; he was just pushing it back and forth on the table. His eyes were wide and empty, and he didn’t seem to care about his tear-streaked face.
“Saloma, I see you’ve brought our new recruits,” a deep voice said. Commander Beef stepped out of the shadows and made a gesture at the rest of the group. “Everyone else here is here for their protection. They all have family that was taken by Immersion, and they all were likely targets.”
“We sympathize with their situation, but we fail to see how we can be of help,” Mahajarama said.
Beef made a gesture at some empty seats. “You might as well sit down. It’s a long story.”
The members of World Three made their way to their seats. Madoi sat next to the boy, who either didn’t notice the newcomers or didn’t care.
“We’re listening, Beef,” Elec said, folding his arms in front of him and sitting back in his seat. “This had better be good.”
Beef nodded and indicated for Saloma to sit down as well. “I’ll tell you what we know,” he said. “Immersion is the newest criminal group to arise. Because they’re activities seemed Internet based in the beginning, the case was given to the Net Agents.”
Madoi tuned Beef out, bored already by his words. She looked around the room and studied the man hidden behind the binder for a moment. She wondered briefly what his involvement in this was, and then decided she didn’t care. She looked around for something else to look at.
Elec noticed she wasn’t playing attention and frowned at her. Mahajarama tapped his arm.
“We’ll tell her the details later,” Mahajarama said quietly. Elec nodded and began to listen to Beef.
Madoi looked at the boy next to her. “Hey,” she said softly, catching his attention. “What’s your name?”
“Oyama Chisao,” the boy said, concentrating on pushing his car back and forth.
“Chisao, that’s a nice name. What are you doing here?” Madoi asked.
“Immersion took my family,” Chisao said softly. He put the car down in his lap. “They took my parents and my brother while I was in the park. They would have taken me too, but Commander Beef didn’t let them.”
Madoi was speechless for a moment. “But why?” she asked, unable to imagine what it would be like to go home and find your family gone.
Chisao shrugged. “I don’t know. They took Gutsman, my brother’s navi, too. I tried to save him, but I was too little to do even that.”
“Immersion’s plans are coming to their climax,” Beef said darkly. “They finally crushed the Science Labs defensives, but once they did, they left them alone. They didn’t even steal any data.”
Mahajarama frowned. “That doesn’t seem like something a net mafia would do.”
“No, and they’ve done it to other places all over the world. They are planning something big, and they are getting close to watch they want,” Beef said. “Once they do succeed, it will not be a good thing for the world.”
“They’re planning something by using this NetWorld of theirs?” Elec asked.
Beef nodded. “If Immersion isn’t stopped, the NetWorld will be their weapon. If that happens… everyone integrated into it will die.”
The woman shrieked. “What about my Meiru-chan! Why haven’t you found my baby girl yet?”
The man sitting next to her tried to calm her down. “Please, Net Agent,” he said softly. “We haven’t seen our daughter in several weeks. If there’s any hope that she’s alive…”
“She’s still alive, as far as we know, but she won’t be that way for long,” Beef said grimly. “That’s why we need the help of World Three.”
The man holding the binder to his face started laughing. The others at the table, all members of World Three included, looked at him in shock.
“Isn’t that just like a Net Agent?” the man said, putting the binder down. “Such an amateurish way of looking at things. I honestly don’t see why the government puts their trust in you.”
“So… even the vice president of IPC has been taken,” Mahajarama murmured.
Elec and Madoi looked at him, frowning. “What?” Madoi asked.
“Ijuuin-san, we’re doing the best we can,” Beef explained patiently. “This is a very delicate matter.”
Elec and Madoi exchanged shocked glances. So the president of IPC was also under the protection of the Net Agents.
“Ijuuin Enzan,” Elec whispered. “They have Ijuuin Enzan, that’s why.”
“Delicate,” Ijuuin repeated, looking amused. “I could hire a task force that would have taken care of this long ago. You have wasted both my time and my money, Beef, and I’ve had enough.” He stood up and walked toward the door.
“Ijuuin-san, there’s something you should know,” Beef said quietly. “It’s about your son.”
Ijuuin slowed and stopped. He looked back at Beef over his shoulder, suspicion shining in his eyes.
“I need to tell it to you in private,” Beef said.
… … …
The Program raced through the data stream of NetWorld’s Internet. It had discovered something very, very important, and it needed to inform its masters right away. The Program stopped when it found the outlet it was looking for and began to compose its message.
“Emergency, emergency. A Double Program has been deleted. I repeat, a Double Program has been deleted. It is suspected that Hino Ken was involved in the deletion. Emergency, emergency. The deletion of the Double Program was discovered by Hikari Enzan. I repeat, Hikari Enzan knows—”
The Program got no farther. It disappeared in a shower of data bits as its body was pierced by a sword. The message, which had been ready and waiting to be sent to Immersion’s top leaders was deleted as well.
Blues swore softly, staring at the disappearing data bits. He had seen the message and knew what it had meant. “Curse that Enzan… what has he done?”
Author’s notes: When speaking to a strange man, you use either oniisan (older brother) or ojiisan (grandfather) to be polite (no ‘hey you’s). When the man is middle-aged or married, ojiisan is usually used. For those who haven’t heard of the third season or played the third game, Dekao has a little brother named Chisao.