Part 57: FamePart 57 - Fame
As I answered half-heartedly, I made the decision to leave the hospital before my mom arrived.
How could I possibly face my family after having been shamed in front of the whole nation?
Be, besides.... if Nanami came, I was positive I'd be overjoyed and start bawling.
And without any idea of how I felt, Nanami would yell at me straight-faced, saying, "Don't make me worry so much, you moron!"
When I envisioned that scene, I almost fainted from embarrassment. As a result, I decided to beat a strategic retreat before I fell into such a situation.
I descended to the first floor and crossed the lobby. Since the hospital hadn't opened yet, the lobby, which was normally bulging at the seams with old people, was now quiet and still.
I managed to breeze out through the front entrance. Fortunately, the automatic doors opened properly for me.
There shouldn't be any issues with the hospitalization fee, since I'd left a note for my mom with "Please pay them later."
Though I'd spent the night at the hospital, I felt physically fine, and psychologically, knowing that Nanami was okay had made my gloom lessen considerably.
I'd come back....
My emotional state was utterly different from when I'd left here last night.
Of course, now I felt refreshed. In fact, I wanted to say a word or two to yesterday's self.
--That kinda thing.
But yesterday had been really tough. Anything and everything had been tough.
My hyper mood drained away in an instant.
I swallowed jerkily and cast my line of sight at the fridge.
Yesterday, before leaving here, after considering what to do about it with my discombobulated mind, I'd stuck the hand in the fridge for the time being.
If I left it hanging around outside, it might rot. And the smell of blood would lie thick.
Sci-fi anime and movies often use the premise that people can remain in a state of apparent death for hundreds of years, as long as you keep them frozen in storage.
In a word, I'd landed on the same sort of idea.
Yesterday, I'd honestly thought that once Nanami was safe, if her hand was preserved with even a little of its former freshness, maybe they could surgically reattach it.
And how was I supposed to account for the cell phone and the bangle?
Unless my eyes were mistaken, those definitely belonged to Nanami.
When I called her, it had connected me to the cell phone in the hand's grip.
Or else, everything, those parts included, was part of the trap "Shogun" had laid for me.
Was it really possible to so perfectly replicate Nanami's arm....
Although I seriously didn't want to.
A human hand? Disgusting. Recalling it nearly made me throw up. Even if it were Nanami's.
But simply because of that, I couldn't let it stay in my fridge for who knew how long. At this rate, I wouldn't be able to chill my Coke, either.
What should I do? Maybe I ought to throw it away.
But I felt like it'd be bad to chuck it if it were Nanami's arm, hypothetically speaking....
For starters, was it okay to throw a human hand in the garbage? If you were going to, did it belong with burnable garbage? Unburnable garbage?
I scratched my head.
Nothing would come of pondering it.
For now, I should take a more careful look at the bracelet the hand was wearing and the cell phone it held.
To see whether they were Nanami's or not.
I stood in front of the fridge and gripped its handle. I closed my eyes and took two or three deep breaths.
Rimi might be my ally, but finding a human hand in my fridge would make anyone pull back. If I screwed up, she might grow weary of me and send me to the police.
My only option was to do something about it myself....
I grit my teeth. I took another two deep breaths.
Gone. I didn't spot it anywhere.
The hand that I'd definitely put in here yesterday. A hand wrapped in aluminum foil.
I'd left it on the top level.
Yet not even a shadow of it remained.
It had unexpectedly vanished.
I crouched and peeked all the way to the back of the fridge. But it still wasn't there.
Anyway, I couldn't have overlooked it, given that there wasn't much in here, and it was mostly empty.
"....I put it in here yesterday, didn't I...."
"The cardboard box is gone.... too...."
The large cardboard box that the hand had been put in.
What had I done with it yesterday.... I had a sense that I'd tossed it into a corner of the room, but....
At any rate, my memories of last night weren't very clear.
Because yesterday had been more eventful than my brain capacity could handle. Not to mention that each event had made a huge impact on me, and I'd been out of sorts from start to finish.
My base had been unlocked ever since yesterday, so anyone could've entered without much difficulty. In fact, that was precisely why "Shogun" had been able to leave the hand in my room. Or was it....
I didn't have clear memories of when I left here to go to O-Front.
My feeling of "I have to save Nanami," and the fear of "Shogun" that came when I saw the hand.... In any case, a range of emotions spiraled in me, filling me to the brim. I hadn't been cool-headed at all.
Maybe I had unconsciously taken the hand with me when I left and had thrown it away in a trash can somewhere....
Alternatively, everything about the hand had been a delusion, and in truth, it had never existed to begin with.
Besides, "Shogun" himself had referred to the hand yesterday.... I had a real hard time thinking of it as being a delusion of mine....
What about the possibility that the police or the media had taken it.... they look at otaku creeps like me with contempt, so the chances of that might be unexpectedly strong.
I was scared to go online after yesterday's events. Even so, I couldn't keep from wanting to see for myself, and I opened my browser.
I'd never seen Yuri Brightman's TV show, and naturally I knew not a thing about him.
What could it all mean.... Everything had been arranged by "Shogun" after all?
He'd talked about a quest or something.
....I didn't understand what "Shogun" wanted to do. He'd even let Nanami go with her life.
There had been almost no time gap between when I barreled at "Shogun" and the mass media came rushing in. Even if "Shogun" had used that time to flee, he would without doubt have been spotted by the media.
It was still more inconceivable for someone in a wheelchair--that is, "Shogun," who shouldn't have been able to use his legs freely--to escape the scene such a short period of time.
As I'd predicted, things were going wild in there. They repeated my real name over and over.
They were all saying whatever the hell they wanted.... Taunting me without any idea of how I felt....
@channel was scary when it turned against you.
"Shogun" was to blame for this as well....
That aside, I'd thought underground news that they couldn't show on television would get posted on @chan, but I didn't spot anything of the sort.
Nothing was going around about how there had been one more person on the roof of O-Front besides me.
Almost as though....
--Maybe the "Shogun" who appeared then had been no more than a phantom of the real "Shogun." Even if his existence were certain, it was also possible that the "Shogun" who'd been at O-Front was a delusion I'd created.
Only things that should've been impossible, realistically speaking, kept happening to me. It was like a game.
A world where Nanami had died, and a world where she was alive.
Like, the two of them stood side by side, and I had the option to pick either one.
Similar to the decision points in an eroge. The future branched infinitely.
The difference between me and ordinary people was that I had delusions of "the choice that leads to an unhappy outcome," and could simulate the event to come.
The "unhappiness" that visited me over and over as though someone had planned it out might in fact have been a mental trap I'd laid for myself.
In the midst of a boring and unchanging everyday life, I wished to emigrate to a world as stimulating as a game, and I unconsciously showed it to myself in the form of delusions.
Impossible. I didn't possess any such desire.
At least, I'd say an instant no thanks to any simulation that would scare or sadden me....
"....Really, just how overimaginative can I get?"
--Reality was indeterminate.
Everything began to appear like a lie. The world called "I" was so hollow....
News Presenter: "The victim is twenty-seven year old Tokachi Asami of the Edogawa district, and the cause of death appears to be suffocation via blockage of the throat."
News Presenter: "According to the police investigation, the muscles of the victim's right hand had been torn off, exposing her bones, and human flesh has been found among the contents of her stomach."
News Presenter: "This is seen as being indicative of the victim having bitten and devoured her own hand; additionally, her ankles were bound with a cord. The police are considering both the possibilities of suicide and homicide--"
Shibuya's public order was visibly worsening, and it didn't end merely with brawls between young people; the situation included an explosive surge in theft.
The mass media frequently used the words "New Generation" to fan the flames of people's sense of danger and enclosure, which in response led to phenomena like certain stores suddenly calling off business.
Additionally, the demonstrators who had been marching under the banner of "Anti New-Gen" once per week suddenly caused a riot and rushed the Shibuya Police Department. Over 100 arrests resulted from their clash with the police force.
As had happened during the commotion about the ESPer boy, several thousand rubberneckers gathered to enjoy the "festival."
The difference in mood between those who were simply visiting Shibuya and those who lived there grew striking.
The former anticipated even greater idiocy and chaos. The latter lamented Shibuya's shift toward lawlessness and advocated giving the police greater freedom to act.
Even if they hadn't suspended me, I wouldn't have been emotionally equipped to go to school.
Another New-Gen incident occurred the day after the earthquake.
A woman who had devoured her own right hand....
That secretly signified Nanami's severed right hand, no doubt about it.
The thing about Nanami had just been "Shogun" phishing me, but I went cold when I entertained the thought that maybe she'd really been the one to die.
And I'd become famous in Shibuya in the worst sense of the word, which made me more afraid than ever before to venture outdoors.
I couldn't hold my head up and walk around outside.
I constantly had the feeling that someone was laughing at me.
Other people's gazes scared me.
I didn't want to meet anyone.
People who seemed like they were from the media frequently dropped by, but I ignored all of them.
I hadn't contacted my parents or spoken to Nanami.
I held back on playing ESO as well. There wouldn't be anything worse than if it leaked out that I was Neidhardt.
Was this brief period of time too long or too short for things to cool down?
Lately, fads have been amazingly fast to change. The catch-words of the moment will have been abandoned in a year.
Some of the coined words that everyone uses in their netspeak die out in a matter of months.
On a daily basis, TV shows seek out "heroes" and "idols" and "villains," milk them dry, and throw them away.
It was true of even the "New-Gen" cases. Now that six had occurred, people on @chan had pretty much stopped discussing the first one.
Everything disappeared from people's memories in the blink of an eye.
That's why I thought about how nice it'd be if, like those sorts of hot topics, the stir about me died down within a week.
Wishful thinking.... but I couldn't help wishing it.
Surely Seira-tan would say:
"If it hurts that bad, you can quit school already."
I'd heard that the worsening of public order had led to an increase in Shibuya students who voluntarily left school.
I'd thought for a while now that I didn't care much about not being able to graduate. As a matter of fact, I might as well leave school right now.
Even so, I was going to school. Despite shouldering a risk of encountering Yua.
I finished drinking the Coke I'd bought from a vending machine along the way and got up from the bench.
Because if I quit school--
Now, because we were classmates, we would automatically meet as long as I went to school. But if that connection went away....
Of course, we could make phone calls or go meet face-to-face. But those things required proactive behavior, and they certainly wouldn't happen automatically.
And I definitely couldn't behave proactively.
In fact, I hadn't seen Rimi for a while now.
Even though Rimi had promised me so. I hadn't had any contact from her for over ten days.
When I imagined that maybe she'd seen me disgraced on TV, and I'd fallen out of her good graces, it made me horribly frightened, and sad, and lonely.
No one--not even Nanami--came to see me. I was slandered in massive online threads. I cowered in fear of "Shogun" and Yua's shadows.
Though I said I didn't want to meet with anyone, that solitude was agonizing.
I wanted Rimi to come take a look at me. I wanted her to say "It must've been hard for you" and hold me gently.
When you got down to it, I was letting her spoil me.
But it was her fault. Rimi.... was the one who had taught me about three-dimensional warmth.
I could no longer find such peace in the second dimension or in delusions. I couldn't stand it just by immersing myself in daydreams.
I want to see Rimi....
Once I entered the school building and climbed the stairs, an unfamiliar girl passing me said "Ah" and looked at me with faint sympathy in her eyes.
When I reached the hallway with my classroom in it--several of the windows there were broken--I sensed whispers and frank gazes from all around me.
At that point, I had a bad premonition.
My wishful thinking was on the verge of being ground to pieces.
Yet all I wanted to do was meet Rimi, and so I opened the classroom door.
Looking down, I walked through the quiet classroom until I got to my seat.
Male DQN A: "Oi, Nishijou. How about showing us your superpowers?"
That single sentence set the classroom's stopped time back in motion....
Male DQN B: "Don't you feel sorry for him, saying that?"
Male DQN A: "Ehh, but dude, doesn't he have Yuri's acknowledgment?"
Male DQN C: "Buhah, yeah, yeah. I saw it on TV. He's way awesome, that fake psychic."
Female DQN A: "Nishijou's gotta be a faker too, right?"
Female DQN B: "He was just cuddling a biiiiig doll and a real little one. Gyahaha."
Male DQN B: "Give it a rest. I'm tellin' ya, Nishijou ain't well. Leave him be."
Male DQN A: "But he's supposed to be able to fly. And what was the other thing, X-ray vision?"
Female DQN A: "Gehh, what'll I do if he uses it on me!? He'll see right through my clothes!"
Female DQN B: "Cause Nishijou's a perv."
Male DQN A: "Oh, crap! He looked this way! You'll turn to stone if you don't look away!"
Male DQN C: "No worries. After all, he's actually just an otaku freak."
The situation I'd feared more than any other. The delinquents honing in on me as their target.
No one had forgotten the disturbance I'd caused in just a week.
Right now, I was the punchline representing all of Japan.
It wouldn't help if I asserted that I'd never claimed to have ESP.
In truth, it no longer mattered what I did.
The story known as "the facts" had spread throughout Japan, and however many hundred thousand people had recognized it as fact.
No one could take it back. Not anyone. Not me. Not TV stations. Not "Shogun."
There wasn't a single person who would look upon me favorably.
I, who so hated TV programs that made a mockery of otaku, had tainted otaku culture like this.
I couldn't use ESP or anything of the sort.
I couldn't fly. I didn't have X-ray vision. Nor telekinesis.
I hadn't been able to get my hands on a Di-Sword, either.
I was an otaku, plain and simple, with no skills aside from my knowledge of anime and games. There was no helping it.
If he acted friendly with the likes of me, even Misumi-kun would be shunned by the rest of the class. Yeah. That's right. It was only natural.
....Feeling the threat of crying start to come on, I made my line of sight circle around. As though to cling to her, I searched for Rimi's form.
Why? Was she taking the day off?
At the time like this?
Then I'd lost my only method of coming in contact with Rimi.
If she never came to this classroom again. I'd probably never be reunited with her for the rest of my life.
I had that feeling.
--It had been the same when she first appeared.
One day, out of the blue, Rimi had been in this class.
And now, just as suddenly, she was gone.
Maybe she'd gotten caught in the earthquake and died....?
Had a girl called Sakihata Rimi ever really existed in the first place?
Maybe, like Seira-tan, she was nothing more than a personality I'd created in my head.
When I thought about it that way, a whole bunch of dots began to connect.
Did I think a 3-D girl so convenient to me, and so ideal for me, truly existed?
I was alone, after all. I'd been alone from the start....
I wept. Internally, I wept.
I fought my hardest to keep from shedding real tears. It was the only semblance of pride I had left. Though, it was a tiny and worthless pride.
It was all I could do to sit at my desk, head hanging, gritting my teeth.
Even if I wasn't listening, my classmates' voices entered my ears as they talked.
I wanted to run away, but I was petrified by the thought that if I moved around foolishly, they'd take it as a reason to pick a fight with me.
Positive, Negative or Neutral?