❯ Mystic Visions – Integration ( Chapter 8 )

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

Chapter Seven: Integration
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After his argument with Wizard, Oujiro managed to stay awake for a couple of hours, but eventually passed out around four A.M. At first he had been leery of falling asleep again for fear of having another confrontation with the Angel, but eventually he realized something – for the full two hours he’d been up, Wizard’s voice had been utterly absent from his mind. He got the feeling that his companion was presently just about as keen on avoiding him as vice versa.

When his alarm clock went off two hours later, it took up all of his self control to not just toss a pillow at it, and he was sorely tempted to call in sick. In the end, however, he forced himself through the process of showering and dressing, and ate his breakfast with the silence humming softly in his ears.

Once at school, he had what was quite possibly his most productive day so far that week. In spite of being somewhat sleepy, he diligently copied down notes, answered questions, and breezed through a surprise math quiz with flying colors. He’d been the picture of a model student all day, and so there was really no reason for him to sound so glum when he answered his phone at lunch time.

“Misaki-chan?” he fairly sighed.

“So it’s true!” He blinked, at a loss. “Ano… that is, H-Hikaru’s been talking to me,” she said hurriedly, and he could tell that it still felt awkward to her. Not that he was used to it, of course, by no means… “She told me, uh, that you and Wizard had had a fight.”

He choked, narrowly avoiding spraying rice. “She told you w-wha-?”

“So it is true, then?” she asked anxiously. “Oh! Didn’t you know – they’re talking to each other now.”

…He could hear that innocent little smile, damn it, as if this was somehow the most wonderful news. “T-They are, huh?” he managed, barely.

“Oh, yes! It started this morning. Ringo-san and I were having a conversation through Hiraku and Lanka-chan, though Hikaru eventually got fed up with it, heh… But I think they’re all really excited. Even Wizard eventually cheered up, Hikaru said…” Her voice took on a thoughtful, concerned tone. “Was your argument really that bad, that he hasn’t told you about it yet?”

He looked down, pushing rice across his tray – I have nothing to be ashamed of! I didn’t ask for this… “Well, it wasn’t very good,” he admitted. “But I’m sure we’ll work things out…” …somehow.

“I hope so,” she said, though she sounded as if his vague answer hadn’t consoled her very well. For her sake, he forced a light laugh.

“Don’t worry about us. We’ve got to work this out – if we’re still giving each other the silent treatment by Saturday, you and the other Deuses with MYSTIC will trounce us, don’t you think?” Somehow he felt that he probably should’ve been more concerned about that, but really it sounded trivial just now.

On her end of the line, Misaki winced. “I guess you didn’t hear about this, either… Arisu-san – she told the judges about MYSTIC. She didn’t tell them any of the details, at least, but Ichiro-san was ordered to turn all the chips off for the tournament. They said it would’ve been too much of an advantage – and I know that, it was supposed to be available to everyone by now – but…”

Oujiro felt something like he’d just swallowed an ice-cube at that `but’. “Turn – them off,” he repeated dumbly.

“Yes,” Misaki agreed, and he could picture her smile wavering like a mirage. “I was talking to Ichiro-san about it a few minutes ago. He’s not sure exactly what kind of effect it will have – whether they’ll just be cut off from us, or if they’ll actually lose consciousness, or if they’ll – restart – but the only way to find out is by trying, right?” she concluded with brittle brightness.

`Restart’? `Restart’?-! “I suppose so,” he said weakly, and then, because she had sounded so fragile just then, he added: “But whatever happens, at least Hikaru won’t be going though it alone, now.” That seemed to cheer her up somewhat, and they tried to stay off the subject for the rest of their conversation until it was time to go back to class.

…not alone, now… they’re talking to each other… he hasn’t told you about it yet? …not alone…

Oujiro was worried, he really was, about the fact that Wizard’s A.I. chip would be turned off for a whole weekend, when the idea had obviously terrified him the last time it’d come up – but, well, if he didn’t want to talk to him about it… he obviously had plenty of other people to talk to… It couldn’t be that frightening, if he wouldn’t give up on this stupid argument long enough to tell him about it, right?

It was only after he’d gone through the motions to get himself through the rest of the day, and was lying in bed unable to sleep despite barely being able to keep his eyes opened, that he fully realized that the uncomfortable feeling of pressure deep inside him was a little thing called jealousy.

X………………………………………………………. ………………………………………………………………..X

The next morning was much the same as the last one, except that he was feeling a bit more rested after an uninterrupted night’s sleep. He gaped dazedly down at the alarm clock in his hands for a few moments, before dragging himself off to a shower, dressing, and finally padding out to the kitchen in bare feet. The clock above the stove ticked in his ear as he put together a bowl of cereal, and a golden beam of sunlight played across the black and white checkered floor.

Just another morning. The morning of the last day before the Tokyo-Yokohama area tournament, true, but did it look any different? He’d used the same brand of soap yesterday morning, had eaten the same kind of cereal. The tick of the clock sounded just the same.

If he’d never even thought about this before, why did it seem to bother him so much now?

He had an insane urge to call for Wizard, just to see if he’d answer…

But this urge, he realized, bothered him the most of all, and he swiftly switched on the radio to see if he could catch any news before he had a chance to think any more about it. His wish was granted:

“-the spokesman also emphasized that the vast majority of calls to the authorities have been from confused, panicking parents; none of the Deuses worldwide seem to have been anticipating this, either, but he stated that none of them have yet been reported as experiencing any adverse effects. He explained that this phenomenon is no reason for concern, but is in fact part of the latest leap forward in Angelic Layer technology – the `MYSTIC project’, unveiled just in time for the much-anticipated Tokyo-Yokohama tournament. He advised Deuses to call 555-5555 for more information-”

Sometime during this Oujiro’s spoon had slipped through his fingers back into the bowl, splattering cornflakes over a wide radius, but he paid it no mind. He didn’t even bother to switch off the radio as he tore back to his room and pounced on his cell phone.

An answering machine featuring a harried-sounding Ogata greeted him and told him to call 555-5555 for information on MYSTIC; he tugged on his hair hard in impatience. Finally Ogata reached the end of his spiel and the answering machine picked up, and Oujiro took a deep breath before saying in a tightly controlled voice: “Ichiro. You’re mad, aren’t you. You realize they’re going to arrest you, don’t you? If I don’t kill you first-”

“Otouto!” Ichiro exclaimed cheerfully, eliciting a pained yelp. “You have no idea how wonderful it is to hear a friendly voice!”

“Ichiro…” Oujiro massaged his temple with his spare hand as he sank onto his bed. “Please don’t make me start shouting. I’m trying very hard not to right now. If I started, I don’t think I’d be able to stop.”

Ichiro scoffed. “Hey, hey – before you get all huffy with me, I swear – I didn’t do it.” Oujiro gave a derisive snort; Ichiro chose to ignore this, and moaned melodramatically. “And yet I have to pay for it! Ogata and I have been hiding out here for hours – the phone keeps ringing – nothing to eat but tuna salad -”

“Shut up.” Oujiro smoothed his abused hair out with a trembling hand before he trusted himself to speak again. “Look, you – what do you mean, you didn’t do it? I suppose Ogata-san pushed the wrong button by mistake?”

“Silly boy,” Ichiro said severely. “You know I couldn’t have done something like this even if I’d wanted to. The MYSTIC package involves implanting new hardware in the Angels before the software can even be installed, and besides from a few practice models of mine, you eight Deuses in the project are the only ones who’ve ever had that done.”

Oujiro’s fidgeting hand suddenly stilled, fluttering to his lap. “So… you mean you have no idea how this happened, then?” he asked, praying that he didn’t.

“How dare you underestimate my vast intellect!” Ichiro bellowed, and then laughed strangely. “Actually – though I would’ve come to this conclusion by now anyway, you understand – several of the other MYSTIC-project Deuses have already called me. The Angels did it, you see.”

Oujiro was silent for a very long time. He flopped onto his back on the bed, and eventually he let all his air out in a long sigh. Ichiro said his name, several times with growing concern, but he ignored him. After a little while longer, he said: “Ichiro? Can I skip school today…? Only robots are taking over the earth, which most people would say is a sign of the Apocalypse, and so I’ve just realized that there wouldn’t be much point in trying to get into Tokyo U, would there?”

There had been an underlying anger to his dreamy tone that someone as close as his brother could have easily interpreted as a demand for an explanation this instance, if he had chosen to. Ichiro, however, merely scoffed again. “Oh, pull yourself together. Why so shocked, anyway? Why hasn’t Wizard told you?”

Oujiro grimaced guiltily. Why was it that he kept having to explain this to everyone, anyway? It wasn’t like it he’d even started it… he hadn’t asked for this… “We’re sorting some things out,” he said vaguely. “He’s not what I expected.”

“Well, you’d better get used to him fast,” Ichiro said, a tiny bit of genuine alarm ringing in his voice for the first time. “If you can’t work with him, you’re going to get eaten alive tomorrow.”

Oujiro blanched suddenly. “You mean-” He interrupted himself with a laugh. “Well, I guess it’s not an unfair advantage, now…” A thought stuck him, and he sat up again. “Wait – can you turn it off? If you, ah, needed to? You can still shut the whole program down, right?”

There was a moment of awkward silence. “Er… no,” Ichiro admitted. Over Oujiro’s moan, he explained: “My computers show seven Deuses currently running MYSTIC software – we turned Alice’s off last night, boy, was Arisu mad this morning… They must have made a copy. Where they’re keeping it, or what they’ve done to it to make it run without the additional hardware… only they know, I suppose.”

Oujiro shivered. “Oh, wonderful. This is crazy… I mean, who’s to say that it’s going to stop here? What if they get into the internet – they could control the whole world from there; they really, actually could… Or maybe Arisu was right all along – maybe we’ll become the dolls -”

Listening, Ichiro shook his head. “Oujiro – otouto – did you forget what you told us, the other night? Why the sudden change of heart? You know as well as I do – better, I’m sure – that there’s no possible reason for these Angels to crave world domination or something silly like that. They want to be closer to us – they care only for us – beyond that, it stops where you want it to. Now, if an Angel fell into the hands of a corrupt individual with corrupt desires, it could become a powerful tool – maybe. Maybe not. Who knows how wise they might become? Perhaps an Angel will see how potentially harmful such foul behavior could be to its Deuses in the long run, and refuse to take part in it – prevent it, even, maybe…” He chuckled to himself. “Kind of gives their name a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?”

Oujiro didn’t know quite what to say to that, and the conversation ended soon after on a subdued note. As he finished getting ready for school, however, a thought niggled at the back of his mind… Yes, but what if you’ve made your Angel angry?

TBC

Mystic Visions – Deuses
Mystic Visions – Shirahime