❯ Hack//Generational Unity – Chapter 1

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Disclaimer: I don’t own .HACK// or any of the characters appearing in this story. They were all created by and are the property of Project .hack and the .hack Conglomerate.

Chapter 1: Memories of the Past

Pain.

Screams.

He couldn’t move.

Why? Why couldn’t he move? Why couldn’t he take his headset off?

And then…darkness

The sound of his computer booting back up made Ryou return to the land of the conscious. He blinked as he saw the bottom of his desk. He was…laying on the floor?

“What the?” the boy mumbled as he picked himself up.

The last thing he remembered was the old lady and…no wait, that thing had a male’s voice, not a woman’s. Ryou shook his head to try and clear it, then sat back down at his desk. A stab of pain passed through his skull, and he rubbed his temples.

What…what the hell was that? The old man had asked about his daughter, and Ryou had told him to piss off. Then there was a great deal of pain, and he had blacked out. The teenager asked himself before looking back onto the screen. He had been logged out of `The World’? “Power spike or something? Maybe I just leaned back and fell,” the boy mumbled to himself before starting up `The World’ again.

Well, whatever the case, he needed to log back on and see if Tsukasa and the others had…had…

Ryou stopped moving, his fingers inches from the keyboard.

An image flashed in his mind. A child danced in battle against an invisible opponent.

The boy gasped as the pain came again.

Ryou clutched his head as a dozen images that he never saw filled his head and made it felt like his mind was going to explode. Tsukasa, Skeith, the months of wandering, the months of nothingness, Kite, the .hackers, Morgona, Helba, Carl, Net Slum…and everything in-between.

“Let’s be friends.”

Ryou screamed as the throbbing continued to assault him while every bit of pain, sorrow and loneliness of the year he could never recall assaulted him all at once. Without looking, he reached over to grab the small wastebasket next to his computer desk, pulled it over to place it under his head…and then threw up.

With that done, he put his head back down on the floor as images flashed through his head.

He saw the boy that was a girl.

He saw the cat that only spoke silence.

…the woman’s voice that had no body, and yet whose body encompassed `The World’…the high and mighty knights…the two lettered woman…the crimson lightning…

Ryou lay on the floor as his brain slowly organized all the lost things that it had found. After an hour had passed, he carefully picked himself up and sat down at his desk to look at the screen.

He had played this game before.

No, it was a different game…or, it was an old version…maybe?

A sigh came out from his lips, this was so confusing. He needed to clear his head. So, Ryou typed in his character’s name and put the headset back on.

A blank screen greeted him. Ryou blinked at the black image, and then took the headgear off to look at his screen.

Invalid user name.

The boy blinked, and looked down where it had the word typed out to see if his fingers had just tripped over themselves and caused a typo. There was no typo, yet the letters spelled out something completely different than what he had intended.

Ryou mumbled the name as he read the name out loud to himself. That wasn’t his…

“No,” the boy replied to his own thought before it could finish. “That’s…that’s not my name anymore.” Ryou moved his hands back to the keyboard and typed in a series of new letters.

H-A-S-E-O.

Logging onto `The World’…

Haseo was enveloped by a sensation of unease, he tried to move, but couldn’t. Colors swirled all around him, and what looked like flakes of his skin seemed to float in the air.

In the real world, he felt a slight sock to the back of his head. Another headache came, and he started to reach up and remove his headset.

Only, his arms wouldn’t move.

A numbness spread throughout his body, and soon he couldn’t feel anything at all. Wha-What the hell, the player known as Haseo wondered as he started to feel like he was truly floating in nothingness. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t speak, he just sat there motionless.

Then, a piece of Haseo’s flesh was torn from its body to reveal the code underneath.

In the real world, Ryou felt the sensation of burning, and wanted to scream.

A shadow of movement from the corner of his eye made him look to the right. Only when Haseo looked, nothing was there. Another shadow flickered on the left, and was gone in the same way as the first.

“I found you.”

Darkness surrounded him once more. There was a sensation of falling as the sound of crackling lightning resounded in his ears. He hit the ground hard, and then Haseo slowly stood up, panting from the experience.

Someone said his name from behind. Opening his eyes to look, he saw a girl with cat-like features and pink fur standing there with a surprised expression that was mixed with worry. It took him a moment to place the face and remember her. Tabby, she was a former guild mate of his, the only one that was still around.

He looked up and the bright colors of the clear sky assaulted Haseo’s eyes. He squinted at the light, and then frowned as he saw the area seemed to be slowly eroding to reveal a grid of red lines in front of an infinite darkness. “We need to get going,” Haseo said right before warping out.

Loading…
Now that he looked at it, Mac Anu had changed. The streets were different, and there were fewer waterways. In fact, the entire layout of the city had changed. It was smaller, compacted to the point where there was no useless space. He remembered how it looked before. It had been much better back then.

But the cathedral was the same. He knew that all too well.

So why were so many things the same, and so many others different.

“Haseo…Haseo…. Hey Haseo wait up!”

The Adept Rouge was brought out of his thoughts by a girl shouting for…him. He remembered, his name was Haseo now.

Haseo looked back to Tabby and frowned. She was just a few steps behind him, but what really annoyed him was all the racket she was making was drawing too much attention. “Cut that out!” he demanded before grabbing the girl’s arm and dragging her along.

“H-Hey, Haseo,” Tabby whined as she found herself being dragged through the streets by one arm. “Haseo, what’s going on? Where’d you get that armor?” She looked down at the usually stoic boy’s new body again and studied it.
Where as before, Haseo’s character had been wearing a black leather ensemble with a multitude of belts, his new clothes that he had on since returning from The Forest of Pain was a suit of armor with the same color scheme. It covered most of his upper and lower body, leaving his stomach bare, seemed to have something like a metal tail coming out from the top half between his shoulder blades. Tabby thought it was really wicked looking.

Haseo decided to not answer the girl at the moment, it would just cause trouble if other people overheard. Then, he stopped, and remembered a particular feature of the game that an older beast-man had told him about the first day he started playing `The World’ R:2. “Just a second.”

Haseo quickly sent an invite for a party to Tabby, and waited till she joined to resume talking. “There, now no one will be able to listen in on our conversation,” he told her as stoically as possible to try and hide his mistake.

The girl snatched her arm away from the black Adept Rouge and rubbed her wrist. Just because she couldn’t be hurt here didn’t mean he had the right to manhandle her! “So what’s this all about, and where’d you get that armor anyway?” Tabby asked while her brain continued to think two steps ahead of her mouth. Right after she was done talking, a theory popped into her head, and she tried to get confirmation. “Ohhh, did you clear the forest? Is that the reward?”

Haseo shut his opened mouth, and waited for any other question the girl might think up on the spur of the moment. When none came, he finally answered her. “Sort of. You could say this is a reward, but I didn’t get it because I cleared the event.”

“That’s not much of an answer Haseo,” Tabby deadpanned. But her unfriendly demeanor quickly vanished, to be replaced by her usual smile. “Oh I get it! You’re trying to be mysterious. Well, you’re not as good at it as Ovan, but I don’t think mysterious guys are all that anyway. Haseo should just be Haseo.” The girl smiled, and nodded in satisfaction at her statement.

What the hell kind of advice is that, he thought as the girl continued on, although he didn’t really listen. When Haseo finally heard the cat-girl start to take a breath, he quickly jumped in to cut off whatever else she was going to say. “Tabby, why are you playing this game?”

The question threw the girl off, and she looked ahim with a startled expression. “Err, why? Well, I…you…” Tabby paused, and collected her thoughts. “If I were to leave, then who would you play with? Even though this is an online game, you’ve never played with anyone else besides the brigade. I don’t want to leave you alone.”

Alone.

Darkness.

He screamed for help, but no one came.

A boy with red clothes entered the room.

Haseo looked away from her, down at the ground, and frowned as he shook his head to clear it. Left alone. Why’d she have to go and say that last part? He looked back up at her and frowned. “A game? Is that all this is to you?” Haseo blinked after he asked the question.

When did it stop being a game to him?

“Well, yeah,” Tabby replied in confusion. “What’s it to you?”

When the hunched over boy didn’t reply, she bent down to try and look him in the eye. “Haseo?”

The boy in question tilted his head back, and blinked as his view was filled with nothing but Tabby’s cleavage. The sight made him stumble back a bit, and Haseo had to shake his head to regain his composure. “Do you live in Tokyo, or near it?”

“Huh?” Tabby replied. What was with all the sudden changes to the topic? “Well, uh, yeah. Why’re you asking?”

Haseo stood back up to his full height and looked down at Tabby passively. “Meet me at the Nazuka Memorial Hospital tomorrow at eleven o’clock. I’ll be in room 278. If you’re not there by one o’clock, then I’ll assume you’re not coming and leave. I’ve got a headache, so I’m logging out now,” he said before doing just that.

As the boy disappeared, Tabby blinked at the graphical effect of his logout, and then sighed to herself. “He could have just asked me now,” she mumbled before checking the time and also pulling out of the game.

Disconnecting…
Moe Kubo sighed as she pulled her headset off and watched as `The World’ game finished shutting down before thinking about what just happened.

Haseo wanted to meet offline? At a hospital?

“Okay, well, freakish local aside, why the sudden change?” the girl who called herself Tabby in the online world asked herself.

Maybe Haseo wanted to form a real relationship in the offline world. Maybe he just worked at the hospital or…something. No, wait, Moe told herself as she thought about that a little more. If he did work at a hospital, he’d have to be really old or something, at least older than she was.

“Maybe I just shouldn’t go,” the girl reasoned before falling back onto her bed and looking up at her bare ceiling.
But then Haseo would probably hate me for not sowing up, Moe reasoned. “Ohhh! Why couldn’t he of just given me his phone number like a normal person? Stupid Haseo.” After cursing her only remaining guild mate, Moe sighed, and resigned herself to heading over there to meet the guy tomorrow and see what was up.

Still, she intended to pick up some mace or something first. Best to be a little cautious after all.

The next day, Moe found herself patiently waiting in the hospital’s elevator as it made it’s way up. Upon hearing the ding of the opening doors, she fought down the part of her nervous mind that said this was a bad idea, and stepped out into the hallway. Then, after asking for directions to the room she needed to go to, getting lost, asking for directions again, getting lost a second time, and finally talking a cute guy into showing her the way to the room she wanted, Moe finally found herself outside room 278.

Okay girl, you can do this. Just remember, if he tries anything, knee him between the legs and run, Moe reminded herself before opening the door and stepping inside the hospital room.

The girl blinked as the scent of flowers assaulted her senses right after walking in. There was an older girl, a young woman really, laying on the bed with machines to monitor her vitals and an IV attached. The room was filled with flowers, and plants of various types. Bunched together as they were in some places, it made some parts of the floor look like a small garden. But after looking around, she didn’t see-“Are you the tabby cat?”

Moe let out a startled scream and jumped forward before turning around to see who’d said that.

There was a boy about her age sitting behind the open door with light brown hair and a collared shirt, light gray jeans combination on. He was sitting with his chin resting in his hands, that was propped up by his arms resting on his knees. “If you have no idea what the question means then…well, sorry.”

That even tone of voice, that look, the way he’s practically ignoring me, Moe counted off the similarities in her head. “You’re Haseo, aren’t you?”

The unidentified boy finally looked over to the girl, and then checked his watch. “Hmm, you’re early,” he said before looking back to her. “My name’s Ryou Misaki. If you haven’t guessed, that’s Shino, her real name is well, it’s Shino. I guess she didn’t have much of an imagination.”

If he was making a joke, Moe couldn’t tell from the boy’s emotionless tone. Although judging by his expression, and the way his attitude had shifted lately, she was guessing no. “What?” she asked sadly. The girl looked over to the young woman, and then back to the boy studying her. “What do you mean this is Shino? What’s going on?”

“I wanted you to see this before I explained some things,” Ryou replied. “I seriously doubted you’d believe anything I’m about to say without cold, hard evidence.” He leaned back in his chair, then shut the door and sighed. “Tabby.”

Moe’s head jumped up and she turned around. “Oh, my name’s Moe Kubo…pleased to meet you,” she replied in a sad tone after her enthusiasm wore off.

Ryou bowed his head a little in greeting, and then began to spell things out for her. “Shino was found unconscious in her room a few weeks ago. One of her friends had been trying to get in touch with her…well, long story short, they contacted her parents. Her parents went to her apartment and found her like this, and then, they of course tried to find out what happened. In a panic, they ended up calling me, since I had called her home number the day before anyone had noticed she was missing. That was also the same day she went missing from `The World’.”

“So, this is why she hasn’t logged in,” Moe said before finding a seat on the other side of the room. “Hase-Ryou, I’m sorry. I know this must be hard on you. But, at least you know what happened, right?”

The boy looked up at her and frowned. “Did you ever play the original game `The World’?”

The girl let out a tiny sigh at Ryou’s tone towards her, then shook her head in answer to the unrelated topic.

“Okay,” Ryou said with a sigh while running his fingers through his hair. “This is going to take some time then.

“`The World’ was originally created by a man named Harald Hoerwick,” Ryou began as he looked back down at Shino. “He was a genius programmer, way ahead of his time. But he was also a little nuts. He fell in love with some poetry writer, or something, I’m not quite sure, but when she died, he decided to create a strange computer program that was like a game based on her work. That program was later turned into `The World’, version 1.”

Moe blinked as she took it all in. “What’s so strange about that?” It was kind of romantic to her. What the hell was he going with this anyway?

“Because it wasn’t really a game,” Ryou replied. “From what I can remember of everyone’s explanations, the game part was only added later, then marketed as `The World’. The original program was some kind of machine that sampled human brain patterns and copied them, then fed them into another program.”

“Why’re you telling me this?” the girl asked after Ryou paused for a moment to take a breath.

The boy looked back up at Moe and sighed. “Because, seven years ago, something went wrong with the program that was supposed to be compiling the data. In a very real sense, I guess you could say it went nuts. The end result was that it not only copied brain patterns, but erased them as well.”

“Wait a second, time out,” Moe cut in while holding up her hands in a T symbol. “Are you actually saying that `The World’ is somehow responsible for Shino’s coma?”

Ryou nodded his head in response.

An eyebrow on the girl’s face rose up to display her unbelief. “Do you have any idea just how insane that sounds?” Moe demanded as she looked back to Shino.

“Just how insane does it sound?” Ryou asked rhetorically. “Those headsets we wear when playing `The World’ monitor brain activity to enable our characters to use expressions, and move our characters in ways that are impossible to do with a controller. Hell, the newest model doesn’t even need a controller. So what makes you think it can’t send a command back to use through some sort of subliminal message, or maybe a powerful electric shock to the brainstem? I’m not saying I know how it happens, just that it does.”

Maybe it was the look in the boy’s eyes, maybe it was the fact that Moe had decided she liked the boy while being with him online, or maybe it was the fact that Shino had fallen comatose moments after dying in the game was a bit too coincidental, but she couldn’t not believe him. So, if that was the case with Shino…“Look, if you know what’s going on, just tell the system admin and-”

“They already know what’s going on,” Ryou told her. He looked back a Shino and sighed. In fact, they must have planned something like this could happen. But why? Are they trying to build another Aura? That was the only explanation Ryou could think of. The original purpose of the game was to construct her, so then why create a new system with the old parts that were made for that, unless CC Corp intended to put them to use?

But then everything came back to: why?

In the modern world, everything ran on technology, and the net was like its vascular system. If someone could create something like Aura, and somehow control it…Ryou didn’t even want to think about what they could do with that.
That idea was blocked by the fact AIs were uncontainable by their very nature. But…since when do people who lust for power listen to reason? Ryou asked himself.

“Then what happened the last time?” Moe asked hesitantly. “If this kind of thing has happened before, then someone must have found a solution right? We can just find them, and have them fix it. They must know a cure or, something!”

“It’s not as simple as some disease!” Ryou sighed, and tried his best to explain what was going on with Shino. He didn’t really know that much himself, but tried to get Moe to understand it wasn’t something that could be cured with medicine. “The thing is, it’s not like Shino’s sick or anything. It’s just that part of her mind, it’s not there anymore. You can’t fix what’s not there. If she’s ever to wake up, that part of her mind that’s stored somewhere in `The World’ has to be retrieved.”

Moe frowned. “Uh, that sounds a little too sci-fi for me,” the girl said as her frowned deepened. “How do I know you’re not just making this up?”

“Moe, I don’t care what you think, but you’re the one who asked for the explanation,” Ryou replied while rubbing his head. “That’s the way it is, whether you believe it or not doesn’t change the fact its real. If you want some kind of scientific explanation well, when you think about it, the human brain really is just a computer. What’s the difference if what we are stored on is a bunch of cells, or on a hard drive?”

As for what happened last time; that, he remembered well. “And the other thing, well, I know who solved the problem last time…sort of.” He had been there for both the beginning, and the end after all. In fact, he was probably the only person that could say that. But, his memories were still a jumbled mess, and it hurt to try and remember. “The only thing the system administrators are going to do about this is cover it up, failing that, they’ll destroy `The World’ to make sure this doesn’t get out of control, and in doing so they’ll ruin any chance I have to find away to help Shino and the others.”

“Can you even help her?” she asked while looking down at Shino. “Look…” Crap, what was his name again? In all the drama, it had slipped her mind. “Haseo, what if there isn’t anything left of Shino in the system’s memory?” I can’t believe I’m buying into this, she told herself. But, she did believe one thing, more than one person had fallen into a coma like Shino, and there were people in `The World’ that would cut off any hope of them waking up than taking responsibility for their actions.

Ryou smirked at the question. “You can believe that is the case. You can believe that the part of Shino that is missing no longer exists, and continue on with your life and continue on with your life knowing that Shino is in an unexplainable coma that you can do nothing about. Or, you can believe that Shino exists somewhere else, and that there is something you can do to help her.”

Moe crossed her hands and sighed as she leaned back in her chair. “I told you to stop sounding like Ovan,” she said with a smirk. “But, you’ve got a point there.” For the first time since entering the room, Moe put on a smile and stood up. “Okay, I’m in.”

“Not yet,” Ryou told her as he too got up and looked the girl in the eyes. “Tabby, you’re a weakling. It’s not just your level and lack of power. When it comes down to it, you can’t really even deal a threat like a PK.” When Ryou saw he was starting to get her riled up, he quickly hurried on, but kept his depressed tone. “What you’re about to get involved in is much more dangerous and much more complicated. I won’t lie to you, if what’s going on is a repeat of what happened the last time, then there is a good chance that you may end up in the room next to Shino.”

Moe blinked and looked down to the girl. “I know.”

“No you don’t,” Ryou told her. When the girl looked down at him with another one of her frowns, he looked back up at her. “I want you to wait one week. During that week, you aren’t to long onto `The World’, you aren’t to visit the boards, don’t to anything related to online gaming at all. Instead, I want you to come here and look at Shino every day, and think about this.

“That could be you Tabby. Quite frankly, although this sort of thing has happened before, there’s no guarantee my expertise will be of any use. You could very well end up in a coma, or you could even die if things go bad. If you come back to `The World’, it will no longer be a game. You will be putting your life in danger every second you spend in the system.”

“Why are you trying to scare me off?” she demanded.

The boy leaned back in his chair ans sighed as he tried to explain. “I love `The World’, or any online computer game like it. You can meet people from all around the world by just sitting at your desk. It’s impossible for people to judge you based on appearance. Age, sex, looks, it doesn’t matter because it’s all a façade. The only things people know about you are what you decide to display though your actions. If I were to make a new character with a beard, and acted like an old man, to everyone around me, that’s what I’d be. And inside `The World’ their true personality comes through, whether it is as good as the one they show everyone else, or darker than any real person’s ever could be. You can find out just how cruel, spiteful, and uncaring some people truly are.”

Ryou sighed and held out his hand in front of his face. He closed three fingers into a small fist, and then opened his hand back up again. “The number of friends, hell, the number of people that have ever shown kindness to me in `The World’, I can count them on one hand and still have fingers left over.” He looked back up at the girl with sadness in his eyes. “I don’t want to see another one of those people hurt.”

“Oh,” Moe replied. So, he was afraid for her. That was…good, right? It meant he cared for her.

A realization washed over Moe, and the looked back down to the comatose woman. You fool, she thought to herself, thinking about something like that in a place like this. “Okay Haseo, I’ll wait one week. Just…don’t get yourself put in here in the meantime.”

Ryou smiled and stood up to face the girl. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to end up here again.”

“So, what are you going to be doing then?” Moe asked.

Halfway out the door, Ryou looked back at the girl. “I need to get back to the old school way of things.”

Next Chapter: The Shadow of Death

Hack//Generational Unity – Chapter 2