Chapter 29: Der Junge, Der Nichts Weiss
(The Boy Who Knows Nothing)
“Let the chip go. It’s not worth your life.”
Enzan stirred and tried to open his eyes. That voice… he had heard it before.
“It’s not worth your life…”
“Blues!” Enzan sat up with a gasp. That voice, the one that had told him to let go of the Dream Aura when those thugs had been trying to steal it in the NetWorld had been the voice of Blues! Enzan glanced at his desk across the room, where Blues’ PET lay in its charger. But Blues had not been anywhere near the NetWorld when the incident happened. So how…?
Enzan laid back down. It was three in the morning, and he hadn’t closed his eyes once. Now he tried again, using techniques he had learned through his business dealings to control his breathing, making it slower, more restful.
“Blues took care of me, like an older brother. No matter what, he always tried to be there…”
“Copy Rockman…” he mumbled, turning to his side. Every night, the memories of the copy navis, among other things, came back to haunt him. Was it Copy Blues who warned me to let go of the chip? he wondered. Did he do it for Rockman?
The blank ceiling gave him no answer, and Enzan heaved a sigh. Someone who was nothing more than a ghost haunting his memory had saved him. He regretted not being able to thank the Copy Navi. He regretted not thanking a lot of people who had helped him.
He regretted being alive.
“You’re my angel,” Rockman said shyly. “You saved me.”
Enzan moaned and clamped his hands over his ears, but that could not stop the voices in his head.
“The happiest day of my life was the day you were born, Enzan.”
Enzan put his knuckles in his mouth and bit them, the sudden pain and taste of blood chasing the voices away. He missed Haruka, seeing her smile greeting him everyday and hearing her cheerful voice. Hikari Netto may be thick-headed and immature… but he was happy. The fabricated Hikari Enzan may have been bitter and ungrateful, designed to do something so horrendous that it provoked Netto to kill him. But at least he had been happy once.
“You apologize? That’s meaningless, coming from you. You have ruined everything since the day you were born, Enzan. If it weren’t for you, your mother would have lived! Will you apologize for that too?”
“Father…” Enzan murmured, whimpering. His father was never proud of him. Ever since the day he was born, he had been nothing but a burden. He blinked, tears pouring freely from his face. He didn’t try to stop them.
He no longer cared.
Across the room, Blues watched his operator toss and turn. It had now been a full month since Enzan had come out of his coma, and two weeks since the meeting with Commander Beef and the Net Agents. Enzan’s body had healed slowly, painfully slowly, and even now he was still pale and thin. He had looked like a skeleton when he was put in the hospital; Immersion had only given him enough nourishment to keep him alive. The other young netbattlers nabbed by Immersion had soon gained their normal weight back, and their pale faces showed signs of being exposed to the sun again, but Enzan’s body had refused to do the same.
Enzan himself hadn’t done much to encourage his healthy recovery. He never went outside, and despite his no longer needing a wheelchair to get around, he rarely even got out of bed. He picked at the food that was brought to him, refusing to eat unless Blues begged him to. He spent his days reading books—or so it appeared to the passerby, but Blues knew Enzan spent hours a day staring at the same page.
Blues knew there was something wrong with his operator. It seemed like he had lost a piece of himself. And no one, not even the boy’s father, seemed to care. The servants treated Enzan as if he were acting like his normal self, and Ijuuin hadn’t been near the boy since the meeting with Commander Beef.
Blues turned away from the sight of his operator, who was staring unblinking at the ceiling, unable to stand it anymore. He wasn’t going to sit there as Enzan slipped away from the world. If his operator’s father was going to sit in his office, pretending nothing was wrong, then it was time for Blues to do something.
-- -- --
The sound of the door opening did not grab his attention, nor did the noise of shuffling feet across the marble floor. What grabbed the IPC president’s attention was the complete silence that followed.
Ijuuin looked up, and instantly regretted it. His son was staring at an unremarkable spot on the floor, his eyes dull and half-closed. Enzan’s red PET was clenched tightly in one hand, and Ijuuin wondered if that was the only thing Enzan realized existed.
“Enzan?” He cursed himself at the weakness in his voice, the lack of confidence and power he usually retained. However, for the sake of the fragile state of mind his son was in, he had to use a gentler tone than he was used to.
“Enzan, come here,” he said, trying to make the words sound friendly, but they came out commanding, as most of the words he shared with his son did.
Enzan obeyed, making his way around the desk and to his father’s side, dragging his feet as if he did not have the energy to raise his legs any higher. Ijuuin took hold of Enzan’s arm as soon as he was close enough and pulled him closer. It was the same arm that at the very end of it held the PET in such a strong grip. Ijuuin wondered briefly if he should pry the device from his son’s hand, but the boy was holding it so tightly that his knuckles were white, and his father quickly reconsidered the idea. The navi contained within the small, red machine was not visible on the screen, but Ijuuin had no doubt Blues.EXE was watching over his master as he always did, taking in everything that was happening, even if Enzan now could not do the same.
He looked up, and to his annoyance saw that computer program his son was always touting around. “What are you doing on my private server? I have work to do!”
The navi bowed deeply. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Ijuuin-sama, but your son—”
“There’s nothing wrong with my son!” Ijuuin had roared, and he slammed his desk for emphasis.
“I have to disagree,” the navi—Blues.EXE, Ijuuin remembered dimly—replied coldly. “There is something very wrong with your son.”
“How dare you?” Ijuuin hissed. “How dare you think you can tell me, a human being, what is or is not wrong with my son! I’ll have you deleted for this!”
“Like you’ve had servants fired for whispering about Enzan-sama’s condition?” he replied.
If Ijuuin hadn’t known better, he could have sworn there were traces of anger in the navi’s voice. “There is nothing wrong with my son,” he repeated, searching for a button on his keyboard that would banish Blues’ presence from his computer.
“Ijuuin-sama, I’m not asking you to believe me,” Blues said. To Ijuuin’s shock, the tall navi got to his knees and bowed. “I’m begging you to believe me. Enzan-sama is dying in front of my eyes, and I am helpless to stop it. You’re his father, and the only one who can help him now.”
Blues, Ijuuin knew, was a very reserved navi, and for him to go as far as to beg someone to help his operator meant that Enzan was in a very serious condition. He had agreed, wearily, and somehow the navi had coaxed the boy to see his father in the afternoon.
“I wanted to show you something,” he said softly. He pulled out the book from its drawer and set it gently on his desk. “This… This is something that is very special to me. Do you know what it is?”
Enzan didn’t answer, although his eyes were focused on the book.
“It’s an album,” Ijuuin continued hurriedly, the silence making him uncomfortable. He opened the book to the first page, revealing a picture of a baby. “In it I keep all my pictures of you.”
Enzan looked disinterested, and his father wondered despairingly if his son was even listening.
“But I didn’t—I called you here because there was something special I wanted to show you.” Ijuuin shuffled through the book with one hand until he had reached the last page. “Look, Enzan.”
Enzan looked. The woman in the picture smiled back at him. Her formal kimono and elaborate hairstyle suggested the picture should have been serious, but she was smiling. Enzan almost wanted to smile back.
“That was your mother,” Ijuuin said softly.
Enzan jerked backwards, reacting physically at last. He grew even paler as he stared at the picture, and his mouth moved, mouthing words he did not have the strength to voice.
Ijuuin stared at his son. “Enzan, look at me,” he said softly. The boy made no move. “Look at me, damn it!” He grabbed Enzan by the chin and forced the boy to look up. “Your mother was a beautiful, wonderful woman. When she was pregnant with you, she was the happiest woman alive.”
“She loved me?” Enzan whispered.
“Yes, she did,” Ijuuin replied, shocked that his son had replied at all. In his shock, his next words slipped out before he could guard against them. “You look just like her, you know.”
Copy Rockman was right after all, Enzan thought sadly. I wish I could tell him that. He leaned against his father’s shoulder suddenly, resting his head against the curve of the man’s neck. He didn’t know how his father knew that he blamed himself for his mother’s death, and he didn’t have the energy to wonder about it.
Ijuuin patted his son’s head awkwardly; feeling more uncomfortable then he had ever felt in his life. An e-mail appeared on his computer screen and blinked silently, but he didn’t notice.
-- -- --
“Try it again,” Dr Hikari said patiently. He watched as his colleague ran through the command set once again. The computer screen in front of the man lit up for a few seconds. Dr. Hikari studied the data that flew by the screen for a moment before shaking his head.
“It’s still the same results,” he observed. “But why? Why can’t we shut this thing down?”
“The government’s getting impatient,” his fellow scientist said. “Why can’t we just cut the power to the building?”
Dr. Hikari shook his head. “For the same reasons the Net Agents stopped them from doing so when they first suggested it. There could be a hidden virus or other troop that’ll be unleashed if it loses power. It also wouldn’t work; this thing is has a backup generator, which is sure to kick in when the outer power source is shut off.”
“But why won’t it shut down?’ the other man asked. “There’s nothing left of the NetWorld!”
“No, that’s not true,” Dr. Hikari said softly. “If there was nothing left, then what’s preventing us from shutting it down?” He stared at the humming remains of the NetWorld, musing silently over the single mainframe that had refused to shut down.
Hikari Yuuichirou turned around to see a familiar face. His heart leaped into his throat as his thoughts immediately flew to his family, and only one thing ran through his mind. What now?
“Don’t worry,” Commander Beef said, seeing the fear in the man’s eyes. “I’m here on what you might say is a social call.”
Dr. Hikari sighed, quickly realizing his fear was evident. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just—”
“Don’t apologize,” Beef said. “I get that reaction a lot, and you have every reason to jump to conclusions. I need you to come with me for a moment. We need to talk about the NetWorld, Immersion’s impact on the world, and a young boy named Enzan.”
An hour later, Dr. Hikari was on his fifth cup of coffee (they had just built a coffee shop near the Science Labs, figuring correctly that those overworked scientists would need something with lots of caffeine in it to keep them working around the clock). Beef was pacing back and forth, his hands tucked behind his back and his expression serious.
“So, you think the reason the NetWorld will not shut down is because Enzan is still trapped inside?” Dr. Hikari asked, paraphrasing what he had been told over the past hour.
“Not all of him,” Beef corrected. “Just a big enough chunk out of his mind to allow him to still function and yet not get any better. In fact, our reports tell us he’s getting worse.”
“Getting worse?” Dr. Hikari repeated.
Beef stopped pacing, and hesitated for a moment. “Has your son told you any more details about what happened in the NetWorld after we lost contact?”
“No,” Dr. Hikari said. “He hasn’t said much about it at all. His mother and I respect his privacy, even though I’m as anxious as you are to know the whole truth.”
“And you know about the Copy Navis and what happened to them?”
“Netto was very upset about it, but he did manage to tell me that much. What does this have to do with Enzan?”
Beef turned to face the scientist. “The NetWorld is still functioning long after it should have shut down. Ijuuin Enzan, someone who is known for his emotional stability and high intelligence, seems to have retained some sort of brain damage, and his condition is steadily worsening. For the most part, Netto has been spared the suffering Enzan is going through—but for how long?”
Dr. Hikari tensed. “What do you mean?”
“The NetWorld is still dangerous. If it does still retain a piece of Enzan’s mind, it may have the power to spread itself beyond that single mainframe—even to the Internet,” Beef paused. “A grime thought, but one we must consider. We know the NetWorld was trying to manipulate Netto into killing Enzan, but how it was supposed to do that is still a mystery.”
“You’re saying that the NetWorld could still have the power to attack Netto and Enzan?”
“Not only the power, but the drive,” Beef replied darkly. “The malice Watanabe programmed into it isn’t something that dies easily.”
“So what do we do?” Dr. Hikari asked. “This is all just speculation; however, I don’t want to take the chance anymore than you do. We have to shut it down somehow.”
“The Net Agents have come up with an idea,” Beef replied. “But you’re not going to like it.”
-- -- --
“Still in the Networld?” Hino Ken repeated, leaning on the counter to stare at the woman behind it. “Could it be possible?”
Miyuki met his gaze steadily. “According to the data we’ve collected, there’s a slim chance that it is.”
“But Enzan’s alive, isn’t he?” Hino Ken asked. “He looked rather pale and sickly when I saw him last, but alive.”
“That’s the problem,” Saloma said, jumping into the conversation. “He still looks that way. He hasn’t moved from his bed, hasn’t tried to return to his normal activities, and hasn’t made any effort to get back to normal, like the others have.”
“Hino Ken! We need your help back here!” the piercing voice of Madoi called.
“I’m busy!” Hino Ken yelled back. He turned back to the Net Agents. “But I thought if the Networld was still in his mind when he was unplugged, he would die.”
“That’s the problem,” Miyuki replied. “We suspect the NetWorld was out of his mind at the time of the crash—mostly. What was left could have taken some of his mind with it. We hope to retrieve it, if it has, but…”
“But what remains of it is in shambles.” Hino Ken shook his head. “Good luck with that.”
“Hino Ken! If you don’t come back here right now, I’ll cave your skull in with a rolling pin!”
Hino Ken snorted. “I’d like to see her try,” he muttered. “Madoi, I said I’m busy! Get someone else to help you!”
He returned his attention to the women in front of him. “So why come to me?”
“We were hoping you could help us,” Saloma confessed. “Maybe with your experience in the NetWorld, you could assist us in getting Enzan back to normal.”
Hino Ken thought about it for a long moment. The ringing sounds of pots and pans hitting the ground from in the kitchen echoed throughout the little curry restaurant. A loud, high-pitched swearing echoed through the building, but Hino Ken took no notice.
“Look,” he said at last. “My job is done. I feel sorry for the kid; I really do, even though he’s almost as big as a pain as Hikari is, but I’m not gonna stick my head out anymore.”
“I see,” Miyuki said flatly.
“Hey.” Hino Ken held up his arms as if surrendering. “I wouldn’t hook myself up to something like that again if I can help it. And as far as information, I can’t tell you much. The NetWorld, it does the most remarkable job of hiding its true nature. Or it did, anyway,” he added darkly. He turned toward the kitchen. “Madoi! If we did have customers, you’d be scaring them off right now!”
“Oh,” Saloma said, disappointed. She wasn’t surprised at his reply, but she had hoped that World Three would have been a bit more sympathetic. Then again, she was thinking too highly of World Three.
“I do know one thing,” Hino Ken said. “Whatever happened in the Networld, it changed Enzan. It changed us all, I think, but him most of all. If you ever do recover his mind, it should be interesting to see the results. Oh, and one more thing.” He dug around in his back pocket and pulled out a card. “If you really need help, call this number.”
“Is it yours?” Saloma asked, taking it.
“No, it’s not mine,” he replied. “But I think you’ll find it useful.”
… … …
In the darkness, something flashed, a tiny beam of light cutting through the darkness. It disappeared almost as quickly as it came, but not before it served its purpose.
He’s coming. It’s about time they figured it out. He doesn’t know what’s going on. Good, that will make this easier. Don’t hurt him. Try and stop me.
In the darkness, something struggled against an unseen force. In the darkness, something else laughed.
… … …
Miyuki nodded slowly, sliding the card into a pocket. “We thank you for your help, Hino Ken. Perhaps we will work together again as allies.”
“Oh, I doubt it,” Hino Ken said cheerfully, waving as they left. Madoi appeared behind him.
“Hino Ken,” she said, irritated. She was covered with flour and looked like she was about to kill someone. “If those weren’t customers, then who were they?”
“Um…” Hino Ken tried to think fast.
“You were talking to those Net Agent girls, weren’t you?” Madoi shrieked. “Are you mad? They’ll be going after us next, now that Immersion is gone!”
“I don’t believe so.”
Hino Ken and Madoi turned to see Mahajarama leaning against a wall.
“Were you standing there the whole time?” Hino Ken demanded.
“Yes. Madoi, I would hardly call paying our bills for the next two years is ‘coming after us,’ as you put it.” Mahajarama held up an envelope.
“They… did what?” Madoi stared at the dark-skinned man in shock.
“Convinced the government to pay our bills in full,” Mahajarama repeated. “For the next two years. I wonder if they knew we were struggling with them to begin with?”
He turned and left then without another word.
“Well, I’ll be…” Madoi muttered.
“Maybe those Net Agents aren’t so bad after all?” Hino Ken mused. He and Madoi exchanged quick looks. “Nah.”
-- -- --
Enzan stepped into the room and winced at the brightness, covering his eyes with one arm. They still hadn’t grown used to strong light, and his habit of shutting himself away lately had done nothing to help.
“I think you know why you’re here, Enzan,” a soft voice said.
Enzan didn’t reply. Behind him, his father kept a strong grip on his shoulder and surveyed the room with an icy gaze. He lowered his arm to study the speaker. Clean-shaven and well-groomed, Hikari Yuuichirou looked nothing like the drunk the NetWorld had portrayed him as. His eyes were filled with mischief and kindness, but he was looking at Enzan with an almost sorrowful look. Enzan wondered if the memories the NetWorld planted in the man’s mind were still vivid, and as he continued to stare at the man, he realized they were.
“You’re here—” Beef started.
“You’re here,” Dr. Hikari interrupted. “Because we need your help. In fact, you are the only one that can help us.”
Enzan looked around the small research room, one of the many in the Science Labs. There was a mainframe, a terminal, and other equipment in one corner, and a long surgical table in the other corner. The three Net Agents stood by the door, watching him.
“I got your e-mail,” Ijuuin said. “This had better work, or I will hold all of you responsible.”
“Did he bring his PET?” Dr. Hikari asked, ignoring the threat.
“I’m not stupid,” Enzan said, breaking into the conversation.
“My son may be at a disadvantage at the moment, but he is not, as he said, stupid,” Ijuuin replied coldly. “You should not talk over his head.”
“Of course,” Dr. Hikari said smoothly. He turned toward the young netbattler. “We think we can help you, Enzan. You may be… feeling oddly, because of something that happened to you in the NetWorld.”
Enzan sucked in his breath, and Dr. Hikari knew he had said the keywords. Something had happened in the NetWorld, something Netto refused to tell him about, no matter how many times he asked.
“The problem is, we can’t shut down the last part of the NetWorld,” Dr. Hikari continued. “And we think that with you helping us, we can. We want to integrate you into the part that’s left.”
Enzan stared at him. They were integrating him into the NetWorld again, even though they thought something was wrong with him? He knew he should feel shocked, or angry, but he didn’t. He didn’t care about anything. “How?” he said instead.
Dr. Hikari gestured toward the black container. “We won’t have you hooked up quite as extensively as Immersion did; just enough to get your mind into it. We believe that if you go in, we can create a direct connection at last, and find out the truth.”
Enzan stared at the surgical table dully. He finally shrugged, not caring what happened.
Dr. Hikari nodded to the Net Agents, and the two women moved forward and guided Enzan to the table. There were numerous wires draped over a nearby machine.
“We’re going to give you some sleeping gas so you won’t feel anything going in,” Dr. Hikari said, walking up to the surgical table. He held out his hand. “May I have Blues? His assistance would be useful.”
Enzan frowned. “Blues?” For a moment, he felt a tinge of panic at the thought that he would be separated from Blues. Then the moment passed, and he didn’t care anymore.
“I would like to help him, Enzan-sama.”
Enzan held up the PET, and Dr. Hikari took it from his hands gently. The darker of the two women—Miyuki the fortune teller, Enzan dimly remembered—held something to Enzan’s face. That was the last thing Enzan remembered.
“He’s unconscious,” she announced. “Should we connect the wires now?”
“Are you prepared to make the connections?”
Dr. Hikari nodded, plugging Blues into his small computer and typing a few things. “I hate doing it this way. Using wires and cables that lead directly to the brain to generate impulses is extremely dangerous. I’m surprised they managed to make it stable for so long.”
“Of course, we know why…” Beef muttered quietly.
“I’d be interested in hearing it,” Ijuuin said loudly, irritated at being left out of the loop.
“Watanabe’s navi held the thing together,” Dr. Hikari said darkly. “She programmed him herself. He was capable of shape-changing, but the amount of data needed to create such a power didn’t leave much for an intellect. He had the mental capacity of a six-year-old child. It was that unsuspecting navi she used to create a basis for the Networld. She twisted its programming and its mind to get her results, but it didn’t last. The Networld didn’t crash because we intruded. It crashed because the navi couldn’t handle the intelligence needed to control such a thing, and withdrew within itself.”
“She abused it,” Saloma added softly. “And I’m sure the only thing it wanted was to make her happy.”
“Connection made,” Dr. Hikari said. “Let’s hope this works. Blues, watch the connection closely.”
… … …
Enzan opened his eyes to see he was standing in a field of grass. As far as he could see, the ground was covered with green grass, and the sky a cloudless blue. There were flowers every so often, and sometimes a butterfly fluttered past. There was a soft, warm breeze blowing throughout the area, and Enzan almost laid down and closed his eyes to enjoy it.
“This isn’t real,” he told himself. He blinked, realizing that his mind felt clearer, clearer than it had in days. Suddenly his gloomy depression for the last few weeks made no sense to him, and he realized with annoyance he had been ignoring the one person he had missed the most in his NetWorld experience—Blues.
Why was I such an idiot? He mentally chided himself. I go and almost get myself killed, I practically ignored him while he was rescuing me, and now I treat him like he’s not even there!
The soft sound of someone singing broke into his thoughts, and he looked around wildly. Why had he ever agreed to go back into the NetWorld? He didn’t even know what he was here for.
The singing voice came from nearby, and Enzan stopped panicking when he realized it was the voice of a child.
“Who’s out there?” he called.
He heard the sound of something moving behind, and whirled, braced for an attack. His eyes widened. “Rockman?”
The navi stood with his head bowed, and his hands hung limply by his sides. He slowly raised his head. “Hello, Enzan-sama.”
Enzan nearly cried out in horror, and stumbled away from the sight before him. “Who—who are you?”
Rockman stared at him. His eyes were made of black, lightless orbs. “I am Copy.EXE, the navi of Watanabe Yuuhi. I possess the ability to copy any navi’s physical appearance and powers for a limited amount of time.”
“You’re the Networld!” Enzan exclaimed, recalling Beef’s words at the meeting two weeks back.
“I was the NetWorld,” Copy admitted.
Enzan tensed, but he knew there was nowhere to run. The grassy plain, the bright blue sky—all of it was an illusion created by the NetWorld. “So what now?” he asked suspiciously. “Are you going to try and kill me again?”
Copy smiled softly. It looked strange on Rockman’s face, like the painted smile of a doll. “I don’t want to kill you, Enzan-sama. Not anymore.”
“Not anymore?” Enzan asked. The way Copy kept calling him “Enzan-sama” bothered him, but he knew better than to say so.
“I would have died when the NetWorld crashed, but someone saved me,” Copy informed him. His voice was a flat, emotionless tone, and there was a hollow ring to it, as if he were speaking from far away. “Rockman—Copy Rockman saved me. He wanted me to keep the NetWorld running, because he knew there was still a piece of you trapped within me. I’ve made sure the NetWorld wouldn’t shut down until you arrived.”
“Copy Rockman saved…” Enzan cut himself off. “Then where is he? Where’s Rockman?”
“In order to survive, we had to merge,” Copy said, tilting his head. “I am now Copy Rockman, Copy Blues, and myself all in one. I no longer hate you, Ijuuin Enzan.”
“Copy Blues was deleted,” Enzan snapped. “You’re a liar!”
“Copy Blues merged some of his data with Copy Rockman before he was deleted,” Copy replied. “What little that was merged with me with Copy Rockman. I’m glad. It would have been so lonely by myself.”
“I want to talk to Rockman,” Enzan said. He wasn’t sure if he was following what Copy was saying. He suspected the navi wasn’t completely sane.
“You are talking to him,” Copy said calmly. He paused for a moment. “Enzan-sama, you should leave. You have gotten what you came for.”
“Don’t give me that!” Enzan snapped. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about! I want to talk to Rockman.”
Copy sighed and closed his eyes. For a moment, he was completely still. “Enzan-sama, you have to go.”
The voice had lost its hollowness, and carried a familiar tone and emotion. “Rockman… I can’t,” Enzan said hopelessly. “I can’t leave you to die again.”
“Enzan-sama, you have to go!” Rockman repeated, his voice more frantic. “He’s coming. I tried to stop him, but I wasn’t strong enough. You must leave now!”
“Who’s coming? Why?” Enzan replied, bewildered by the turn of events. “Wha—ack!”
He pitched forward as something crashed down hard and fast between his shoulder blades. The sudden pain caused spots to form in front of his eyes, and he had to shake his head to clear them.
“Did you miss me?”
Enzan looked up, gasping at the sight of his attacker’s face. “Hikari Enzan!”
Author’s notes: The chapter title is German because… I happen to like the song it’s from. Yeah. And I can actually read it (Woo-hoo! German skills kicking in!).