Part 33: Takeshi - Fifth Day - Part 2TrackZweitestock
"Actually, I think I knew, but then I forgot."
"Right... Okay, I'll tell you. Qualle is... the Jellyfish Gondola ride. And it's located just behind this elevator room."
"Hooo, is that so?"
And then we both fell silent. Tsugumi started to giggle and gave me a hard look. We both knew what we were going to do next.
"Say, how do you make this thing work?"
"'Go figure'? Come on, tell me."
"It's already turned on, dummy, just get in and it'll go."
"Look, I tried it out already, so I'm pretty sure."
"Hmm, well, if you say so... wait a second! You've already tried it?"
"Well, yeah...I tested it."
Tsugumi's face looked troubled, as if she'd been caught at something.
"You're saying you rode it alone?"
"...well, not exactly alone."
"So, who was with you?"
"It's not 'who' I was with... You see, well...I was with Chami..."
"You mean your hamster?"
"In other words, one adult and one 'critter'."
"You rode Qualle with Chami?"
"Yes...Don't make me repeat myself."
"Well, then how was it? Fun?"
"Chami fell asleep. I guess he was bored. But as for me..."
"Who cares? It's a meaningless question."
Tsugumi hadn't said much, which was a lot more than usual.
"Hmm... In other words, you were lonely, huh...? If I was there, I could have cheered you up."
"What do you mean, 'Cheer me up'?"
"Well, you know...you've been through a lot... And I thought, maybe the two of us together would..."
But then suddenly, Tsugumi's expression lost its tension.
"Heh, heh, heh.... Ha, ha, ha..."
All of a sudden she let out a laugh.
"Hey...what's going on with you...? Did I say something stupid?"
"Nah, not really. It's nothing important."
"It's just that...I needed to laugh..."
And then suddenly, her expression hardened again. But then again, I thought...That a slight smile still remained on her face.
"Okay, if you say so..."
Immediately after the hatch closed, the gondola began to move forward smoothly. It was just as Tsugumi had said. The jellyfish shaped gondola picked up speed, and headed toward the outskirts of Zweite stock. The corrugated tube carrying the gondola wrapped its way along the perimeter of the floor. Floating comfortably inside the tube, the gondola skirted its way along.
"Well, some things I need to say... Things to say...things I need to let you know... And I figured, no one could interrupt us here."
"It must really be something important... Something serious...?"
"Well, yeah...at least for me it is."
Having her approach me to talk was unusual. Tsugumi fixed her eyes firmly on mine. Her eyes were serious. With no sign of mischief in them. Whatever the consequences, I had to listen...
"Twelve years ago... In August of 2005. On a summer day... I was infected. I was infected with a virus... Yes, 2005. Twelve years ago. I was only 12 years old at the time..."
"And are you still...infected?"
"Yeah. I'm a carrier..."
"...a carrier? What? Wait a second! Come on! Wait a just a second here! You mean to tell me...twelve years ago, at age 12?"
"That's what I'm saying."
"Twelve years ago, at age 12...means your age now is..."
"That's right, I'm 23. I'll be 24 in another two months. You see...I was born 24 years ago. In July 1993."
I scrutinized Tsugumi's face. There was no way she looked 23. But then again, I knew she wasn't lying. We had never touched upon the subject of her age. But I had assumed her to be a "high school student" at the most.
"23 years old..."
I muttered to myself. To think...she was three years older than me...
"Takeshi, where are you?"
She suddenly changed the topic.
"What do you mean, 'where?' I'm right here."
"Yeah but, where is here?"
"You know, here is 'here,' right?"
I beat the palm of my hand against my chest.
"Have you ever cut your finger nails?"
"What's up with you all of a sudden?"
Tsugumi leaned over urgently, right in front of my face. In her eyes I could see something, like a distant light. I could just glimpse the tip of her tongue, wet and smooth.
"Just answer, okay... Have you ever cut your finger nails?"
"Of course I have."
"Well then, is the nail that's been cut away still you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, are you there in the nail?"
"No...I guess once it's gone from my body, it's not me anymore."
"How about hair?"
"The same goes for hair."
"In that case, this hair here is you right? But if I pull it out..."
I reflexively put my hand to my head. Tsugumi had yanked out a couple strands.
"This isn't you?"
Tsugumi held the hair up, waving it around.
"Hmm...that's tough. It isn't me but... I guess you could call it, 'ex-me.'"
"Okay then...What if I ripped your arm off?"
"You gotta be kidding!"
Tsugumi grabbed my arm.
Although she wasn't abnormally strong, I found it impossible to resist her. It was a natural, flowing movement. Inside the white gondola Tsugumi's body covered mine.
I could feel her breath.
I could feel her pulse.
I could feel the warmth of her body.
I could smell her scent.
The smell of musk...
It made me slightly dizzy...
"Well? If I ripped your arm off?"
Gazing intensely at me, Tsugumi continued shooting me questions.
"Would you be there, in the arm?"
"No, I suppose I wouldn't be there."
"Or if I cut your torso away? Or even if I took out your brain?"
Still gazing at me, she moved her hands and put them on my neck. It felt like I was being hunted. The illusion was intense. She looked straight at me. I couldn't shake myself away from her gaze. I peered deeply into her eyes. I felt like I was being sucked inside her... Those eyes, full of that distant light. I wondered where the light originated from...
"Tell me, Takeshi, where are you?"
"I'm... where am I?"
On an amusement park ride with someone who looks like she just might kill you. WHY ARE YOU NOT PANICKING?
So where exactly did the entity called 'me' exist? In the past, people thought the soul existed in a person's heart. Descartes believed the soul inhabited the pineal gland in the brain.
The brain. I wondered briefly if I existed only in my memories? But if that were the truth, then if I lost my memory like the Kid, wouldn't that mean I was no longer 'Kuranari Takeshi?' Thoughts? Senses? Emotions? Sensations? Character? Values? All of those things were nothing but functions of the organ called the brain.
For one thing, the 'me' that ran around in elementary school was composed of different molecules than the 'me' there. From purely a material point of view, my younger 'me' was entirely different than my older 'me.' Cells die and are replaced daily. Every cell that is replaced will also die.
They say the cells in the entire human body are completely replaced every three to five years. By comparison, a rock would be composed of the exact same molecules five years before, or five years hence. But a human body was different. The cells of 'me' five years ago were not the same as the cells of 'me' then.
Even so, the 'me' of five years before and the 'me' then were definitely the same. Then, just what was it that defined 'me'? And where did that 'me' exist...?
Existential crisis mode, go?
"You see. Your existence has no substance. All you are is a concept."
"You are just a packet of information...'software'. The information written on a CD has no physical body, right? The CD itself is just plastic, a hard mass of polycarbonate."
But that mass has nothing to do with the information it holds. Information can't have a physical body, that's impossible. Information does not have shape or substance. The embodiment of information only takes place through its application. However, the embodied information itself has no actual body. The essence of information is the information itself..."
"Takeshi, it's the same for you. There is no physical substance to your 'essence.' Instead, the human called 'Takeshi Kuranari' is no more than a concept, information, software. And that essence is realized only through your body, the hardware. That's it. Your body is just the hardware. It's just a device in which the entity of 'you' is embodied."
"...I see. Hmm. Okay, okay. I understand you perfectly. No, actually I hardly understand you at all...but if what you say is true... Then what? What does that have to do with what you were talking about?"
"Twelve years ago, I was infected with a virus."
"Yeah, you said that."
"Because of that virus...the virus... It rewrote my genetic code."
"What? Your genetic code?"
"Cells in peoples body are replaced daily. They are reborn, and then die. Normally, the human body is totally replaced with new cells within five years. When I was twelve, the cells in my body were infected. And from that moment on, they divided and replaced themselves. Five years later, all cells had been replaced. In five years, every cell that made up my body had been genetically altered."
"And when the last of the cells had died... the last trace of my 12-year-old self disappeared. In that moment the old me died. The old me died, but the new me became a body that never dies."
"A body that never dies...?"
"My immune system and my metabolic rate were remarkably improved... My telomeres began to regenerate themselves... That's right... I will never grow old, and never die. My physical growth stopped at that moment in time. I'll never grow older than 17."
Hey, that sounds kind of familiar!
"'Telomeres that continue to rejuvenate'"
Well, if what she said was to be believed.... Tsugumi's body would never die on its own. As long as her body had the energy to continue, it would not die. As long as she continued to have the will to live, her body would be sustained forever. Semi-eternal life.
But, was such a thing even conceivable? The concept of never growing old, never dying - was it possible? Why do living creatures age? ...Essentially, it is to protect against exhaustion and deterioration of function. The life cycle needs aging so it can have succession and renewal through subsequent generations.
"Ha... Ha, ha, ha... That's a good story. But no way...! But I guess it's a good joke, pretty solid."
"Yeah...I guess youre right."
Tsugumi snickered at my words.
"Yep, it's just a little joke. I thought you might fall for it, but I guess not."
"What else would you expect? Crazy talk like that."
"Well, Takeshi... I guess you're not so stupid after all."
Her disheveled clothes showed just a peek of her legs. And a glimpse of her sleek thighs. Her clean satin skin...and a scar.
"What's the matter? Takeshi...what are you looking at?"
Your right thigh, at the scar...
"Do you want a closer look?"
"Shall I show you...?"
"No, really... It's okay..."
Sure enough, it was a scar. However... It looked like something that had healed years ago, just a scar where once several stitches closed a wound.
Both my mind and body were exhausted... Even though little remained of the night, I slept soundly. When I awoke, I felt refreshed and fully recharged. Apparently, no one had noticed my disappearance during the night.
"Good morning, everybody."
"Yeah, hi there, Sora."
A little later than usual, Sora presented herself in the Conference Room.
"So how about it Sora? How did the maintenance go?"
"Well, yes... The system is in sound condition. Although, there would be no way to repair any mechanical damage if it were to occur. The scheduled maintenance program checked out. I can assure you that the entire compound is functioning normally."
"Well, that's good to hear."
"After carefully assessing the situation, I have found a slight noise in my thought processor... Normal function will not be compromised, so no modifications are necessary."
"Hey, Sora, what does that mean?"
"Well, Coco. It means that... You see, sometimes certain customers want to play pranks on me. They tell lies, or try to confuse me. And because of that, my memories or programmed responses get a little out of alignment. It tends to cause issues in my thought processing. Sometimes older data gets mixed with newer information, making it difficult to determine which is correct. When this problem becomes severe, it's necessary to fiddle with the system and overwrite the problematic data."
"However, at this time, nothing too drastic has occurred, so please don't worry."
"Other than that...I have yet to complete a full check of the sensor data which was recorded throughout the compound while you all were sleeping. I doubt any new leakage has occurred...but I will report back to you, once I've checked the sensor data."
"Thanks, Sora. We're counting on you."
"Yes, leave it to me. By the way, thanks to the maintenance program, the LeMMIH terminal response has greatly improved. There was a slight problem concerning LeMMIH traffic, but it has been resolved. Terminal communication functions were optimized to adjust to LeMU's current status."
"Hey Sora, what do you mean by 'traffic'? I'd like to know more about what exactly has was tweaked in the terminals."
"Alright everyone, why don't we go to breakfast?"
(Is it me, or did she just totally ignore my question?)
...Oh well... Perhaps she just couldn't hear me.
Everybody relocated to the chicken sandwich shop.
Looking at their faces as they ate, I suddenly felt relieved. The faces of You, Coco, and the Kid seemed so happy... Sora just stood by quietly watching them enjoy the meal. However... Tsugumi was nowhere to be seen.
But there was nothing in particular to do... Nothing that just had to be done... So without any reason, we all just ended up gathering in the rest area. As always, the vases were filled with blossoming flowers. Marguerites, marigolds and roses. Apparently, the flowers were watered periodically by mist from the sprinkler system, helping them maintain their freshness.
I didn't see Sora anywhere, but then again...she did say she hadn't finished checking the sensor data... She probably had gone to the Control Room. It seemed that she could concentrate on performing operations better there. You, who had been talking with Sora earlier, was strolling alone around the top of the circular stage in the middle of the room. The Kid, Coco, and Pipi where chasing each other playfully through the water. I had a feeling I had seen this all before... After having a good stretch, I watched Coco and the others play. The three of them, two kids and an animal, circling the stone statue. They were playing a game of chase, not really caring who was "it." Without seeming to get bored, they kept running around and around. I seemed to be making more effort than they were, just watching them.
(Phew, what a sight...)
It looked like fun, but I quickly gave up any idea of joining in. And at any rate...Tsugumi had yet to make an appearance this morning. Just in case, I had left a sandwich for her at the kiosk.
(I don't know if she'll actually eat it or not...)
What would I say to her if I met her?
Virus carrier. A body that never dies. A body that never grows old. Her healed scar. It was all so hard to believe... Could such a mind-boggling story even be true? I was still unable to completely believe her.
(Huh....? What is she doing....?)
With a worried look on his face, the Kid was watching Coco intently. Pipi, too, had his eyes on her. In the middle of the rest area stood four stone statues. Coco was deliberately attempting to scale one of the pedestals...
"Here I go!"
...With a heave, she began to climb up the side.
It was an odd sight. I ran to the Kid, as he stood frozen watching her.
Stumbling as she mounted the pedestal, Coco ended up embracing the statue.
The Kid asked her curtly.
"Yahoo! Wow, all I did was stand a little higher, and everything looks all different. Let's see...to be exact, 27 inches higher, don't you think?"
Perched on top of the pedestal, Coco said this smiling triumphantly.
"Hey Coco, is that why you climbed up there?"
"What? Well....uuum, actually no..."
Coco answered with her head cocked.
"This area right here looks like it's missing something."
"The statue's back... I kind of thought its back looked lonely."
Coco stroked the statue's back sympathetically with her tiny hand.
"Abra...cadabra... SCREW DRIVER at YA----!!"
Uttering a stream of nonsense, Coco suddenly produced a flat-head screwdriver in her right hand.
And then, another one appeared in her left hand.
(Hey, where did she get those...?)
But before I could ask her anything, Coco was gripping two screwdrivers... And then... Into the back of the statue...she began to carve the stone using the tip of the screwdriver....
Cut, cut, carve, carve...
And within moments, the back of the statue was covered with gashes.
It was incomprehensible. I just couldn't understand it. First she says the back looks "lonely", and then she starts gouging it. For a while the Kid and I just gazed at her with our jaws dropped.
"Hey, hey! What are you doing!"
The Kid yelled as he came back to his senses.
"I'm carving. Can't you see? I'm carving... I'm etching some marks into the stone."
"Oh, really. Etching some marks... I can tell that by watching you, Coco! That's not what I mean..."
The Kid beat me to the question.
"Well, it's because..."
"I was feeling lonesome. And anyway, I was..."
"...feeling sad... I was feeling sad..."
She muttered in a tiny voice. She worked with great dexterity, using a screwdriver in each hand. The tips of the drivers dug into the stone screeching and forming tiny grooves.
"Well, nobody's coming to rescue us, right? We've been abandoned. So what harm is there in wrecking the place a little?"
The Kid and I looked at each other. Coco looked back at her handiwork.
It was a human form, like a stick person. Its tip formed a round head...
And look, this is Pipi and Chami."
Looking more carefully, I could see two unusual animal figures beside the human form.
Wait, how does she know about Chami?
"And then there's..."
One of the shapes had a particularly large head. It was only half finished.
"This is Tsugumi. For Tsugumi, it's important to make her look really cool... Tra, la, la...tra, la, la, la, la..."
Singing a cute little song, Coco continued to carve. She seemed entirely absorbed by what she was doing. Somehow, I could relate to her desire to throw herself into something...
"That's destroying private property...it's vandalism."
"Hey, relax Kid. Now's not the time to be so uptight. Coco's into her work. You can't blame her."
"Here we go, next... Uh oh!"
"Hey, be careful!!"
He grabbed her by the hips, to prevent her from slipping down and carefully lowered her to sit on the pedestal.
"Watch your step, okay?"
"Ah, I know...why don't you join me Kiddo?"
"Come on, please... Let's both try it! You can carve a picture of yourself and Nakkyu here... And then I was thinking of carving Takepyon over here. Okay? Here's one of my screwdrivers."
"Well okay. Thanks..."
Energized by Coco's enthusiasm, the Kid took the screwdriver. And mounted the pedestal to join her.
"Be careful not to fall yourself, Kid."
"I-I'll be alright."
"Don't slip, Coco. Why don't you let me hold you up?"
"Huh? I wonder if that's the...?"
"She'll be alright!"
I was about to stretch my hands toward her but the Kid stopped me.
"Don't worry, I got her..."
The Kid took hold of Coco's empty hand. While embracing the statue in a hug, Coco and the Kid steadied each other. And using their free hands, they both began carving shapes.
It was evidence of our existence here.
After a light lunch, I looked around but couldn't find You anywhere.
"Looking for You? She ate lunch and then went to the Security Office in Zweite stock."
"She said something about doing some research."
"Research? I wonder what that could be?"
"She didn't say exactly... If you really want to know, why don't you go ask her yourself?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right..."
"What about Sora, where'd she go?"
"She's still in the Control Room. I spoke to her through the terminal intercom, but she seemed really busy."
As usual, Tsugumi was nowhere to be seen...but the sandwich I left at the kiosk was gone... Come to think of it, neither You, Sora nor Tsugumi had said a word to me all morning.
At any rate, I figured I would go search for them. But I didn't know where should I go?