Chapter 7: Truly Blue, Inside and Out
Enzan stared out the baloney window in his room, deep in thought. His musings all reached the same conclusion, something he didn’t want to consider. Rockman…The memory of what had happened on the way home recycled in his head, and he could not banish it away.
“Stop it; turn it off!”
Rockman’s body continued to convulse and his screams began higher in pitch. Enzan searched desperately for a way to stop what was happening, but he didn’t even know which program had instigated it. With the PET, there wasn’t much he could do anyway. It was designed for the navi to do all the work while the operator supported the navi.
Suddenly the background snapped into the normal blue color, and the screaming stopped. Enzan searched the PET frantically, but Rockman was not visible.
“Rockman…” he whispered.
Enzan closed his eyes. The memory was fresh, but he knew the pain it brought him would last as long as he could remember. He had been forced to walk home on his own because Rockman hadn’t answered his calls, and even now, an hour after the event, Rockman still did not respond. Enzan was worried that something had been wrong, but he was also afraid of trying to remotely forcing his way into the PET and finding the problem. He knew he didn’t have the equipment to do that without taking the risk of hurting the blue navi.
Enzan turned around. The PET was resting in the charger and Rockman was finally visible on the screen. His head was bent forward and his hands were behind his back.
“Rockman…” Enzan breathed. He walked over to the desk and crouched so he was face-to-face with the navi. “Rockman, are you all right?”
“The punishing takes some time to recover from,” Rockman answered dully.
“That’s not what I asked you!” Enzan yelled.
Rockman jumped on the screen and looked at Enzan nervously.
“Are you okay, Rockman?” Enzan asked again, his voice gentler than it had been before. “Are you damaged in some way?”
“N-no,” Rockman replied. His eyes were wide and frightened.
“Then never, ever do that again,” Enzan said roughly, his voice filled with emotion. “You hear me? Don’t ever do that. Ever.”
“If that is what you want, Enzan-sama,” Rockman said softly.
Enzan slammed his fist on the desk. “No! I don’t want some of your recycled obedience, I want you to promise me that,” he took a breath, “and mean it. Don’t you understand, Rockman? You scared me to death. You were in pain, and I had no way to help you or stop it.”
“Enzan-sama, why would you care?” Rockman asked, his voice bitter. “You are the one who created the punishment. Why would you be so upset when I deserve it?”
“I am not your operator, and I have nothing to do with that sick practice,” Enzan spat. He sighed, trying to calm down. His anger didn’t help the situation. “I’m all alone here, and you’re the only one who can help me. But there’s more than that. You don’t deserve to be punished for anything and certainly not for defending your creator. I don’t want you hurt, Rockman.”
Rockman looked up. His eyes were filled with pain and his voice was flat as he responded. “As you say now. Tomorrow, if you remember your past, will you repeat those words?”
This time it was Enzan’s turn to look away. “Rockman, all I can do is insist that I’m not your operator. I can’t say how he will react, because I don’t know. I don’t know anything until you tell me.” He looked back at the navi, his eyes piercing. “You need to tell me about your past with your operator, and I will order you to do it if you refuse.”
“As you wish, Enzan-sama,” Rockman said, his voice carrying no emotion. “What do you want to know?”
“Everything,” Enzan said, sitting down. He felt guilty for making Rockman do this, but he couldn’t put up with not knowing any longer. “Start from the beginning, and work up from there.”
“As you wish,” Rockman whispered. He was silent for a moment, as if he was gathering his thoughts. “I was created by Hikari-hakase to be a custom net navi for his son, Enzan. Papa was a very busy man because he was the head of his department and one of the top scientists at the Science Labs. He traveled around the world lecturing on navigational technology and assisting other organizations. His family missed him, but they understood how hard his work was.
“When his son’s eleventh birthday was approaching, he started spending more time away from home. He told his son it was more work, but in reality he had started working on me. I remember how gleeful he was at having such a great present for his son.” Rockman fell silent, cutting his story off.
“I know this is painful, but I need to know what happened,” Enzan said quietly.
“You already do know all of this and you’re just playing with me, as far as I know,” Rockman replied softly. Before Enzan could protest, the navi continued his story. “The day of my operator’s birthday was the happiest day of my life. He was overjoyed at finally having a custom net navi, and I was overjoyed to finally meet the operator Papa had been telling me about. Over the next few days, we grew used to each other. Our personalities clashed, and we argued sometimes, but we were still…” Rockman trailed off, unable to finish his sentence.
Enzan sensed Rockman’s hesitation and tried to help. “And a few days later, Hikari-hakase lost his job.”
“Yes,” Rockman replied, taking a breath. “Things were fine at first. Hikari-san and my operator were shocked, but they were ready to support Papa. And for some time after that, we were fine. But after awhile, Papa couldn’t find a job. Hikari-san had to get one, and it made her tired and cranky. My operator became withdrawn, and he started snapping at me when I didn’t do what he wanted fast enough. I thought if I just waited, things would get better, but they didn’t. Hikari-san started to get irritated at the sight of me and my PET. She would yell at my operator for leaving the PET out in the open, or putting it on the table during dinner.
“Papa began to come home drunk, when he even came home at all. My operator grew more depressed over time. He dyed his hair back to its natural color when the white part started to grow out. He began to get into fistfights at school, and his grades dropped. Hikari-san had fights with Papa when he came home, loud fights. The whole neighborhood could hear them. My operator tried not to listen, but…”
“Did they mention you?” Enzan asked quietly.
“Sometimes,” Rockman whispered, staring at his hands. “They would just hurl insults at each other, but sometimes they talked about me. Papa argued that I was a gift to make up for his absence; Hikari-san said I was one of the reasons he was gone so much. My operator heard every word. At school, things got worse for him. He was okay for awhile, but then… My operator liked to netbattle, and we were good at it originally. But then I started losing battles time after time, and I just couldn’t figure out why. He got angrier and angrier after each loss, and he—he—”
“He designed the punishment,” Enzan finished grimly.
Rockman nodded. “It’s nothing more than a simple electrical pulse that draws energy from my own supply. He didn’t intend to use it at first—he just wanted to see if he could do it—but one time he just got so mad… and then after, he started hesitating less and less. The punishment didn’t help my netbattling skills. Finally he stopped netbattling because he said I was too slow and stupid to do it right.”
“But the punishment didn’t go away. Instead, it increased,” Enzan cut in. “He started applying it more and more for other mistakes. But he wasn’t just satisfied with hurting you; he had to take it out on other people. Eventually, he became hated at school and by others who know him. Even those who didn’t know him well enough to hate him would laugh because of his father’s reputation. His grades got so bad he was held back, his father came home less and less, and his mother took out all of her frustrations on you. Am I right?”
Rockman made a sobbing noise. Enzan blinked and leaned closer to the PET. “Rockman?”
Rockman rubbed at his eyes, but he couldn’t contain his sobs. “I—I—I’m sorry!” he cried.
Oh, no, Enzan thought in horror. He’s crying… he’s actually crying! “Rockman…” he said helplessly. “It’s all right. None of this is your fault; none of it! It’s okay.”
Rockman continued to sob. Tears trickled down his face, and he tried to hide them in shame.
“No, it’s okay,” Enzan said, trying to make his voice soothing. In desperation, he pulled the PET from the charger and held it in his hands. “You don’t have to be sorry for anything.”
“I’m so weak!” Rockman cried, looking at Enzan at last. “If I were stronger, I could have helped him! Losing those netbattles was only proof that I wasn’t strong enough. I’m worthless.”
Worthless… The word echoed in Enzan’s head. He knew the feeling of worthlessness all too well. Silently, he stood up and went to the bed. Holding the PET in one hand, he slowly laid down on his back. He rested the PET on his chest, facing up, and stared at the ceiling.
“Sometimes things happen, Rockman,” Enzan said softly. “Things you can’t control. No matter how guilty you feel, they’re not your fault. All you can do is continue to live and try to do better. Can you sense my heartbeat?”
“Hai,” Rockman replied hesitantly. “Yes.”
“Concentrate on it,” Enzan said, closing his eyes. “Try to let the sound calm you down. It will make you feel better.”
“Thank you, Enzan-sama,” Rockman whispered.
Enzan did not reply, pretending to be asleep. You shouldn’t thank me, he thought. According to your memory, I’m the one who hurt you so much. What Rockman had gone through wasn’t right. No one should be abused in that way, navi or human. The very idea of it nearly sent Enzan into a rage, but one thing sobered him. The one who had done all of that to Rockman… was himself.
So it wasn’t exactly him. So this wasn’t his real life, how he got here was still a mystery, and he wasn’t responsible for what his counterpart had done. But it didn’t take much of a stretch to say if it had been him, and everything that had happened to Rockman’s operator had happened to him, he would have done the same thing.
No, that’s not true! He shook his head, trying to banish the conclusion. So what if Rockman’s operator had a hard life? His life had been hard too, and he had gotten over it. However… he had been hardened by what had happened to him, just like Rockman’s operator. He had learned the hard way how to be ruthless in business, and he applied to netbattling when necessary. He had believed that navis were tools to be used, not friends to be made for so long… What if Rockman’s operator had thought the same thing? When his ‘tool’ continued to fail him, it wasn’t a hard stretch to begin punishing the navi for not doing its job. After all, what good is a defective tool?
A navi is more than a tool, Enzan told himself. A navi is more than mere data… Rockman, the real Rockman, taught me that. Yet still, Blues and I are no closer than we were before meeting Hikari and his navi. Why? Does Blues think that I cannot change? Does he fear me, like this Rockman? If he does… then have I really changed? Am I no better?
Enzan felt the grip of sleep tightening on his consciousness, and he had no desire to fight it. His thoughts started to run together and stopped making sense. He saw Blues morphing into Rockman, Rockman scream in pain and morphing back into Blues, still screaming silently. Enzan finally drifted off into an uneasy sleep, the PET still resting on his chest.
… … …
“We’re glad you offered your help, Mister…”
“Hino Kenichi,” Hino Ken offered. “Most call me Hino Ken.”
“Very well, Hino-san,” the woman said stiffly. She wore a black, shapeless suit. It was unattractive on her.
Hino Ken gritted his teeth in annoyance, but he kept his lips curved in a smile. The woman had known perfectly well what his name was, and she didn’t seem the type to forget such an important detail like that.
“I’m afraid, however, we have all the help we need,” the woman said dreamily. Her eyes softened, seeing something besides Hino Ken and the small meeting room. Hino Ken knew that look. It was one he had seen on Wily’s face many times. It was the look of someone completely devoted to what they were doing. It was also the look of a madman. Or, in this case, a madwoman.
“Immersion is not for everyone,” she continued, snapping back to reality.
“Immersion?” Hino Ken repeated. He narrowed his eyes. “That’s the same name of your front company.”
“Yes,” The woman replied, sounding suspicious.
“Now why would you use the same name for your net mafia?” Hino Ken asked.
The woman laughed. “Net mafia? You have got us all wrong, Hino Kenichi, formerly of World Three. We are not a net mafia. We seek to recreate the real world, not that fake, sad copy of it.”
“Using the NetWorld?” Hino Ken replied bluntly, raising an eyebrow.
The woman’s eyes grew wide, and she immediately gave him her full attention. “How did you hear about the NetWorld?” she demanded
Hino Ken laughed. “You aren’t exactly being very careful about it. Even the Net Agents have heard about your ‘project’ and what it entails.”
“Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong,” the woman said, smiling slightly. “The Net Agents know nothing of what the NetWorld really is, or its purpose. No one will know until it’s too late. I find it curious that you would know so much.”
“I am formerly of World Three, as you have said,” Hino Ken said. “I make it my business to know about the latest organization trying to reshape the world. The Net Agents think they’re good, but they have nothing compared to others. Besides, I figured I might as well get into the scheme before I become a victim of it.”
“Very wise,” the woman said, relaxing. “What is your proposition, Hino Kenichi?”
“This NetWorld,” Hino Ken said reluctantly. “It sounds rather interesting… I take it you have little control over what happens there?”
The woman stiffened. “The computers do their best, but free will is always a chaotic factor.”
“I see,” Hino Ken replied thoughtfully. “What if I were to make you an offer? This NetWorld world you’ve created sounds rather interesting. In return for a few promises of yours, I would willingly be… integrated, I think is the term you use, into the NetWorld.”
“Why?” the woman asked skeptically. “You would be completely in our hands.”
“To tell you the truth… revenge.” Hino Ken crossed his arms and gave her a serious look. “I still have issues to settle with the one who destroyed World Three. This NetWorld sounds like the perfect opportunity to do it.”
“I see,” the woman replied. “You realize you would have to put it off until we are done with him.”
“Yes,” Hino Ken said. “I wanted to offer to go willingly so I wouldn’t go unwillingly, like some.”
The woman smiled thinly. “A very wise move on your part. I think we do have a position for you, Mr. Hino. It would be very useful to have someone on the inside. Now, if you’ll come with me, we can discuss this further…”
Looks like I’m in, Hino Ken thought. Now, all I need is time to send off my special report. I hope Fireman and I can pull this off…
-- -- --
“Have you heard from him yet?” Saloma asked.
“No,” Commander Beef replied, studying the charts on the computer screen.
“I knew it was a mistake to ask him,” Saloma mumbled, crossing her arms. The computer beeped, as if to add an emphasis to her words.
Beef scanned the window that had popped up and smiled slightly. “Take a look at this.”
Saloma leaned over his shoulder and read the message.
Report from Agent WWW
Immersion is the name of a little-known gaming company. They specialize in virtual reality games and are known for their quality. They are small, however, and not very wealthy, so they are under the radar of many big businesses. Upon setting out on my mission, I have discovered—as we knew—that the company was a front for the new organization. The organization has taken the same name as the company—Immersion—which may be why they haven’t announced their presence to the rest of the world yet. This organization claims to have no interest in the Internet, yet they readily use it for their purposes. They are also responsible for the recent kidnappings.
I will be integrated into the NetWorld, their codename for the project, within an hour. It is short for a Network-created World, their “network” being sustained by the large amount of machinery they store in their main building. From then on, I will lose all contact with the outside world. I still am not any closer to the true plan of Immersion or the purpose the NetWorld. I cannot guarantee any results, but I will try to help the subject realize the truth of his situation. The NetWorld cannot be stopped from the outside and from the inside the subject may be the only one who can stop it.
By the way, Beef, don’t forget your promise. If you do and I find out, I will come back from the dead if necessary to seek revenge.
“So even he will admit that the subject is our best chance,” Beef commented, amused.
Saloma frowned as she read the message. “What does he mean, your promise?” she asked.
Commander Beef waved a hand. “I’ll tell you later. Right now, we must commence with the second phase of our plan.”
Saloma nodded and followed Beef out of the room.
Author’s note: For clarity, the -- indicates change of scene within a reality (i.e. the NetWorld’s reality and the real world), and from here on you will see a lot more of the -- thing, while the … indicates a change of scenes between realities (changing scenes from the NetWorld to the real world, or visa versa). Confused? Good. It’ll make sense soon enough.