Chapter 24: The Final Scenario
Enzan and Netto ran down the street. It was empty of both people and cars; there were no signs of life anywhere. They had been running ever since Enzan had pulled Netto out of the balcony window. Fortunately there was a tree branch nearby that Enzan had grabbed onto, or they would have fallen to their deaths. Netto wondered if he were crazy, following someone who claimed to have Netto’s life and was called a murderer by the police. But the disrupter device was resting heavily in his pocket, reminding him of the evidence he had seen with his own eyes.
“Where are all the people?” Netto cried.
“Who do you mean, the virtual reality programs?” Enzan shot back. “Just keep running!”
“Where to?” Netto asked. “We have nowhere to go!”
Enzan slowed to a stop and Netto gratefully stopped with him. They were both gasping for breath.
“I don’t know,” Enzan said through his panting. “But we have to go somewhere.” He pulled out his PET and stared at it. Only a static filled screen greeted him. “Rockman?”
“Looks like he’s gone, just like Blues,” Netto said grimly.
“No, he can’t be…” Enzan whispered. “Rockman!”
“Will you keep it down?” Netto hissed. “They’ll hear you and find us!”
Enzan shook Netto’s hand off and gripped his PET with two hands. “Rockman, where are you? Answer me!”
“Idiot!” Netto snapped. He was irritated at how Enzan had dismissed his worry over Blues earlier and thought the boy was getting what he deserved. “If you’re going to stand here and get killed, that’s fine by me! I’m going to find some shelter.” He wandered off toward one of the buildings, and after hesitating, Enzan followed him, still staring at his PET.
“Rockman, please come back,” Enzan whispered. “I need you.” He blinked, surprised at how emotional he was getting. He had never truly appreciated the navi’s steadfast support and presence until it was gone. Now Enzan felt lost, and he had no idea what to do. Rockman’s the only friend I’ve got in this reality, Enzan realized. I can’t make it here without him.
Netto burst through the doors of the store and looked around. “All clear,” he called.
Enzan followed Netto into the building and looked around. “It’s a bakery,” he noted.
“Yeah,” Netto replied, nodding. He reached for a pastry and inspected it. “It’s a good thing too, because I’m starving.” He took a large bite of the sugary treat, munching on it with obvious relish.
“Considering that thing you’re holding isn’t even real, I don’t see what you’re so happy about,” Enzan pointed out.
“It tastes real and that’s all the matters,” Netto said, wiping smears of frosting off the corners of his mouth.
“Have you ever thought about what this virtual reality program does to your body to make it taste real?” Enzan asked.
Netto mulled that over for a second. Then he found the nearest garbage can and retched. “I didn’t even think about that,” he groaned. “I’m not sure I want to.”
“I haven’t been able to eat anything after I had that thought,” Enzan admitted.
Netto sighed. “What are we going to do?”
Enzan sat down at a table and sighed, looking at his PET. Static covered the screen no matter what button he pushed. “I wish I knew,” he said softly.
Netto sat down in a chair and looked into his own PET, its screen covered in similar static. “I never imagined life without him,” he said softly. “No matter what, since the day I got him, he was always there for me.”
Enzan stared at Netto. The boy had stated his same confusing feelings in simple words. “He went out of his way to protect me,” Enzan replied. “I hate the idea that I can’t be there for him.”
“Yeah,” Netto said, sighing.
A door in the back of the shop opened, and a man entered. Enzan and Netto leaped to their feet, but the man was dressed in a baker uniform and he didn’t seem to notice the two.
“Excuse me?” Netto called. “I had one of your pastries. I’m sorry about that. I can pay, if you want.”
The man looked up. He had no facial features.
Enzan and Netto both screamed and ran out of the shop. They stood on the sidewalk, gasping.
“What the hell was that?” Netto demanded.
“I guess,” Enzan replied, his hand clamped against his chest in an effort to steady his wildly beating heart. “The program doesn’t need to hide what this place really is anymore.”
“I forgot what I was dealing with,” Netto said between gasps. “It feels like we’re in some kind of horror movie!”
“There they are!”
Enzan and Netto looked up to see a group of uniformed police officers heading toward them.
“Run!” Enzan yelled. He and Netto ducked into the alley next to the baker shop, only to skid to a stop.
“It’s a dead end!” Netto cried, whirling around. The policemen were rapidly approaching. They had no chance of trying to get out of the alley without being caught.
Enzan slid the leap pipe out of his back pocket and looked around frantically. By chance, he happened to glance up. The end of a fire escape ladder hung in the air. It was too far for him to reach. Out of desperation, he struck it with the pipe. The ladder slid down a few meters.
“Come on!” Enzan shouted, dropping the pipe. He grabbed the bottom of the ladder and hauled himself up clumsily. Netto quickly followed Enzan, looking back over his shoulder at the officers on the ground. They stared up at the boys as the two made their way toward the rooftop, making no move to follow.
“We did it!” Netto cried as they neared the top. “We lost them.”
Enzan raised his head above the edge of the rooftop and froze. Stiffly he climbed onto the rooftop. Netto followed him, puzzled, until he saw what Enzan had spotted. He gasped and nearly fell off the ladder. Enzan reached down and helped him up, the white-haired boy never taking his eyes off the figure on the rooftop.
“Miyuki!” Netto cried, finding his voice at last.
-- -- --
“They just keep coming!” Iceman cried. He froze a few defense programs rushing at him. “There’s no end to them!”
Blues sliced three defense programs in half and paused to look the battle over. His small army of copy navis was doing badly. Gutsman’s left arm was heavily damaged, and he was forced to strike his opponents with only one fist. Glyde was cutting through the defense programs with his GlydeCannon, but he wasn’t used to fighting and had taken even more damage than Gutsman. Iceman was fighting valiantly, but the battle was taking its toll on the small navi. It was clear they wouldn’t make it unless a miracle happened.
“Blues!” Roll cried. “Behind you!”
Blues whirled to see two defense programs rushing him. He swung his sword up into a defensive position.
“Blues! There’s another one!” Iceman screamed, taking his eyes off of his own battle for a moment. “Look out!”
Out of the corner of his eye, Blues saw a defense program charging at him, a sword on one arm. The copy navi moved to block, but he knew he was too slow. The defense program swung the sword toward Blues’ midsection. Blues cringed, unable to do anything else.
Then in a swirl of data bits, the defense program disappeared.
“Rockman!” Roll cried out.
Blues whirled to see the blue navi crouching nearby. Rockman fired off a quick session of shots at all of the defense programs within range. The battlefield was filled with data pieces and buster fire until there were no more defense programs in sight.
“Copy Rockman,” Rockman said softly, standing up. “That’s all I am. That’s all we are.”
Roll bit her lip. “So you know,” she said, looking away guiltily.
Rockman ignored her. “Blues, Netto and Enzan-sama are in danger and they need our help,” Rockman said firmly, turning toward the red navi.
“I can’t leave the others,” Blues replied.
“This is pointless, Blues!” Rockman shot back. “We’re wasting time here while Netto and Enzan-sama could be dying! Don’t you care about your operator at all?”
Blues didn’t reply.
“We can handle things here!” Iceman called, freezing a few defense programs that had appeared. He was breathing heavily, and there was no strength behind his words.
“Blues, we know you wanted to protect Netto,” Roll said softly. “That’s why you didn’t tell anyone the truth. Now we know Immersion doesn’t care about our operators. Meiru-chan is safe, but if she were in danger, I would do anything to help her.
“It’s over, isn’t it?” Blues asked softly. “This is really the end.”
“It was never real to begin with,” Rockman said. “Nothing in this world was. The past I thought I knew was nothing but lies, but that won’t stop me from saving the only person real to me.”
“All right,” Blues said, lifting his head. “I’ll go with you, Rockman. Maybe we can still turn this situation around.”
“That’s the spirit,” Roll said.
“Roll-chan!” Gutsman huffed, slamming his fist into two defense programs, obliterating them. “Go with them! They need your help.”
“But Gutsman—,” Roll protested.
“He has a point!” Rockman interrupted. “We have a long way to go and a lot of opponents to fight to get there.”
“All right,” Roll said. She gave Gutsman one last look before running to join the others. “Let’s go!”
Rockman led the way, firing off shots from his buster when necessary. Soon they were out of sight of the copy navis left behind. Rockman charged ahead, Roll and Blues hot on his heels.
Hang on, Enzan-sama, Rockman silently begged. I’m coming!
The ground suddenly exploded out from beneath the navis. Rockman was thrown into the air and landed several meters away in a crumpled heap. Blues flipped backwards and landed on his feet. Roll landed against the ground hard, but she slowly stood up, clutching her side. A massive defense program stood before them. Its limbs were bulky and misshapen, and the two glowing slits that were its optical sensors were crooked.
It was obviously badly programmed and barely holding together. That didn’t make it any less dangerous. Blues held up his arm and formed a sword. He scanned his surroundings quickly. Rock had been thrown far from the attacking ground and, although he didn’t look like he would get up anytime soon, he was currently out of danger. Roll, on the other hand, was closer to the defense program and in bad shape. She was between him and the enemy. Blues narrowed his hidden eyes. This was not good.
“Roll, stay put,” he ordered. “Let me handle this thing.”
Roll tried to say something, but her voice was weak and she couldn’t get anything out.
The defense program began to move, but Blues was one step ahead of it. He surged forward, his blade positioned for a sweeping blow. The lumbering program saw him coming and stopped moving forward, cocking his head at the approaching red blur. Blues leaped into the air and swung his sharp sword down on the program’s head, only to recoil in horror as the blade shattered.
Blues landed next to Roll and studied the end of his broken blade. It hadn’t even made a scratch.
“He’s got no attacking power,” Roll rasped, grabbing his arm with one hand. The other hand was pressed firmly at her side, where data flickered in and out of pixels at an alarming rate. “It’s all built into his defense.”
“But why?” Blues asked, using one arm to support her while keeping a careful eye on the program. It seemed confused and was looking around, as if unsure of what to do next.
“The Networld is losing control,” Roll said softly. “It can no longer concentrate on everything at once, with most of its subjects escaping. My guess is it’s concentrating on one area only and doing the rest on automatic.”
“Netto-kun and Enzan are out there,” Blues said grimly. “It’s still trying to kill him.”
“It’s likely to kill both of them now,” Roll huffed. “Blues, you have to take Rockman and find them. They need your help.”
“What about you?” Blues asked, moving his attention from the defense program to the pink navi. “No,” he said quickly, seeing the look in her eyes.
“Someone has to distract that thing while you and Rockman escape,” she said softly.
“I’m not going to let you throw your life away like that!” Blues snapped angrily. “What about Meiru-chan?”
“She has her original navi now,” Roll said, smiling slightly. “I’m nothing more than a copy. She’ll be fine.”
“Roll…” Blues tried.
“Don’t,” Roll shook her head, standing up straighter despite the pain in her side. “I’ve made up my mind. I’ve done my part, but you and Rockman still have to do yours.” She smiled at him, but he could see tears in her eyes.
The defense program, tired of being ignored, began lumbering toward them again. Blue spared it a glance, his mind racing, trying to figure out how to get them all out of this mess.
Roll leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. Blues froze; then he pulled her into a tight embrace, being careful of her wounded side. Roll pulled away after a moment, her eyes searching his visor.
“Roll, I…” Blues tried to say.
“Go,” she whispered, pulling away from him. A tear slid down her face, but she put on a tough look and refused to meet his hidden eyes.
Blues tried to say something, anything to change her mind. “All right,” he said finally. “Sayo… Sayonara, Roll.”
She watched him as he quickly raced over to Rockman’s unconscious form, scooped him up, and ran toward the defense program. With a graceful leap, he jumped over the program and quickly disappeared on the horizon. The defense program clumsily tried to figure out where the two small targets had gone.
“Hey, you ogre!” Roll shouted, getting its attention. “Why don’t you pay attention to what’s in front of you?”
The defense program decided to take the easy route and started for Roll again.
“That’s right, you bastard,” Roll growled. “Come get me. I hope whoever’s behind all this pays dearly for it. How could anyone kidnap children and other innocent people and place them in something as twisted as this?”
She took a shuddering breath, drawing on all her power. She wished she could confront the core consciousness of the NetWorld, but she would have to be satisfied with destroying one of its creations.
“You know,” she said as the program grabbed her and lifted her off the ground. “The funny thing about not being a real navi is that I can control everything that makes me. My programming, my attacks… and especially my energy.” She grinned, the pain engulfing her body making her mind hazy. “Which I’ve been building up for some time.” Sorry Meiru-chan. I wish I could be there for you always. “In fact, it should blow right about—”
-- -- --
“I wouldn’t recommend you move,” Miyuki said coldly. The gun in her hands remained trained on Enzan and Netto. “All I’m asking is that you come quietly.”
“You’re not Miyuki,” Enzan said quietly. “You’re just another creation of this virtual reality program.”
“Move away from the fire escape,” Miyuki said, gesturing with the end of her gun. The two followed her command, moving sideways along the building’s edge. “Ijuuin-san,” Miyuki said, looking at Netto. “I’m sorry you had to be caught up in all of this. Your father will not be pleased.”
“His name is Hikari Netto!” Enzan snapped. “Stop pretending this is real! We know this isn’t. We know the truth.”
“The truth is you’re very
ill,” Miyuki replied. “
“I’m only twelve years old!” Enzan cried. “How can I kill someone as big and strong as Hino Ken?”
Miyuki smiled. “Like this,” she said, firing the gun.
“Enzan!” Netto screamed.
Enzan stared at his chest. For some reason, there was a large red spot forming on his shirt, and it was growing larger. He realized dimly that he had been shot and wondered why it didn’t hurt.
Miyuki walked toward the boys. Netto stared at Enzan’s wound, frozen in horror and fear. Miyuki stopped in front of Enzan and grabbed a handful of his hair, staring into his terrified eyes.
“You should have minded your own business,” she said. Then she shoved him backwards.
Enzan heard Netto scream out his name again and realized he was falling. She had shoved him off the building and he was falling to his death. Then he remembered he had been shot and should be dead anyway. He would have thought some more on the subject, but he hit the ground the next moment.
“Enzan!” Netto cried.
Author’s notes: I spent all day trying to remember the word for “fire escape.” Sayonara means good-bye in Japanese, but the Japanese no not like blunt, final words, such as “no” or “good-bye.” Sayonara is used when you will never see the person for a long time or ever again.