Epilogue – “boy meets girl”
And then, after Higgins’ energy supply was forcibly shut off, Arato and Ryou were saved by the mass-produced Kouka which were waiting.
After blasting open an escape route with their laser cannons, they all disappeared somewhere. Whether or not this was an acceptable ending for the real Kouka, whose wish was for battles where ill-intent was outsourced, Arato did not know.
Arato and Ryou were then arrested by the Ground Self-Defence troops after exiting Higgins’ facility. As a result of speedy first-aid and being sent to the hospital before secondary shock could set in, the large burn on Arato’s right arm was treated without severe aftereffect. He had then underwent a stringent inquiry both at the hospital and the military facilities.
He later heard that Lacia’s suspended hIE body and the Black Monolith were retrieved by the Army in a search. He also received a chance to enquire of Astraia from the IAIA where he learnt that the Lacia, who had turned into a Super Intelligent AI, was isolated and would never be allowed to get into contact with the outside world ever again. That was the contract between Astraia and Lacia.
As a result, Arato was able to be released after a mere one month or so.
By the time he completed the procedures to return to his normal life, it was already late Autumn.
Lacia was no longer by Arato’s side. And so, there was no longer any chance of his live being in danger as it was while he was together with Lacia. He thought that that must have been part of the agreement between Astraia and Lacia
She splendidly upheld her side of the deal to the faithful end.
“Big bro, you’re a third-year now, so you should at least be able to go shopping by your own already.”
Yuka spun the resin bag containing ice cream in a loop.
The corridor of the apartment at night was dark and empty. Even so, he did not feel lonely as Yuka was sticking along.
Advancing to third-year in September, the atmosphere around Arato was slightly different. He was separated from Ryou now, but he was still in the same class as Kengo and Erica Burroughs.
“You’re also in your third-year of middle school already, right. Saying that you want to get into the fashion industry, yet not studying at all. You know you can’t get into Fabion MG by using my connections, okay.”
His portable terminal vibrated in his pocket. It was from Kengo; ever since his bail was prepared for by Lacia, he received mail from him almost daily recently. Kengo’s family establishment had since gotten a hIE. This has allowed them to save on manpower, and it seems that their work all-round-the-clock 365-days-a-year business model has also changed.
“Haven’t Ms. Erica done everything she wanted to do with Fabion already? In that case, I’m sure she would find raising a new member of the company under her personal tutelage to be delightful.”
“I guess courage is the one thing you have full of at least.”
Arato’s terminal rang out in the sharp tone to indicate the most urgent transmission. When he looked, he saw that it was Erica Burroughs herself.
[What is this? I seem to have received this résumé directly from your sister.]
On the other side of the receiver, the sleeping beauty looked amazed. Thinking about how he was going to see her again in school tomorrow made him want to hug his head.
“Please forgive me. This one’s just a neanderthal, she just does whatever comes into her mind.”
[Under her personal qualities, she listed, ‘In my family, I usually get what I want when I cry’. Are you guys really doing alright?]
The coddled way of life of his sister was conversely a source of pride for her it seems.
“If you don’t mind, how about using her?”
[Isn’t your father working as the technical support for the Mikoto line of hIE politician in the Equator region? Just nice, I was thinking I wanted a bite of a share too.]
His father, Endou Kouzou, was currently at the Equator regions where he was setting hIE politicians for the countries where internal strife occurred due to the “Second Hazard”. It was in order for the hIE politicians to temporarily assist the provisional governments until they stabilize their administration.
He would occasionally received correspondence from his father who was on an official trip to Indonesia. In a place like that where my races and religions mingle together, they may experience more of an opposition to use. But, in times where resources are scarce, this system gains a certain level of confidence of being more objective than those in the fight for power themselves. However, in that society, the limited resources then become under joint control or artificial intelligence. The era of human society being controlled by machines has begun.
“I sure hope it’s nothing dangerous. I would hate if he were to be wrapped in some shady business.”
[The Super Intelligent AIs haven’t made any big moves so far ever since then. In the first place, being one to go to the Equator willingly where they are fighting over ruling rights, wouldn’t he long have gotten caught up in something by now?]
Erica had become slightly more light-hearted. That surely had something to do with the fact that the relationship between humans and objects has shifted somewhat. There were reproaching opinions that this would eventually lead to a dystopia, but Arato decide to view it as a step forward instead.
[I’m thinking of letting the operational model of Mikoto wear our Fabion brand.]
Arato could only be impressed by her acuity for business.
“I think he’d be more than grateful for that. In the experimental city, she was only wearing some plain clothes after all.”
Mariage was the only one amongst the Lacia-class to have survived till the end. That was also probably one of Lacia’s way of maintaining balance after she was gone. Erica had thought as such too. Occasionally, Arato would think that it was precisely this fragile balance that resulted in his surroundings being peaceful.
And whenever he sensed that trace of Lacia, he would come to a halt.
[There’s also that, but it seems like something interesting is occurring around you as well, isn’t it. Perhaps you could call that playing as your spouse?]
And with that, Erica ended the conversation one-sidedly without permitting a response as usual.
Arato had been left behind at the corridor of the apartment. Yuka was looking at the sky without reserve. To think that the Erica Burroughs would actually contact him personally because of her matters was quite the feat, but he decided not to bring it up lest it goes to her head.
“You look much better now, big bro. Lately, your countenance looked kind of bad which made me worry.”
And so, leaving behind Arato who felt tired of walking already, Yuka ran home first instead. It seems like his sister had grown up slightly to be able to read the mood now.
She opened the door halfway and turned back. Her cheeks slightly reddened and she grinned.
“Oh, I almost forgot. Shiori’s coming over tomorrow.”
As if in response to their father leaving far for work, Yuka liked to call her friends over to their house.
Kaidai Shiori has completely recovered from her injuries. Back at the ward, there remained an awkward air around them, although neither of them touched on it. It probably felt to Shiori like an untreatable scar now that Lacia was no more.
From what he heard from Shiori, Higgins still had its hardware frozen in the midst of the examination by IAIA. In return, it had its AASC updated by Lacia which they found in the facility.
From the basis of how hIE operated, Arato had noticed what was it that Lacia had created. Now that he thought about it, he felt a never before closeness to hIE than he ever did. He can sense the future that he had ordered Lacia to create.
Even separated like this, Arato was still being guided by her who was no longer around. Whenever he takes a breath, he would feel like Lacia had gone far away.
Whenever he sees hIEs making complicated gestures, he would be reminded of her. It was because he knew that she did not have a heart that he could feel her being around everywhere. It was like a sentimental heartbreak which felt brand new.
He could no longer see Yuka in from the corridor.
The chill of the Autumn night penetrated deep into Arato’s skin like needles.
It was through the fusion of the human body, the surroundings and tools, that mankind were able to turn the fierce heat of the summer into a season of boundless harvest.
They were continually being guided along by a large unseen analog hack. It was likely that this path would lead to humans losing their domination over world just as Ryou had said. However, Arato believes that by joining hand with the objects with which they only share “shape”, they are able to enter a much more vast world ahead.
Arato looked down at the nighttime streets as if looking for the figure of Lacia.
All of a sudden, he felt an unexplainable urge that she was at the elevator hall.
Light footsteps resounded through the corridor.
A mixture of nervousness, anticipation and unease cause his body temperature to spike in an instant.
The large white cloud formed from his deep exhale was blown away by the night winds and scattered.
The familiar footsteps and unforgettable sound of breathing sent a jolt of lightning through his spine. In his mind, he knew she was different. Be that as it may that it was just a lie, she had promised to cook for him once more. The closer she got, the more he recalled the sensation and presence of the actual which made his leg turn into jelly as if this was a miracle of a meeting.
Arato saw her.
Her pale blue eyes and lilac hair, and that transparent expression all matched that of his vivid memories.
No matter how much he looked, all he could see was Lacia.
Her cheeks appeared slightly red from the cold as she looked right straight at him as she always did.
“Is that you, Lacia?”
Arato could not immediately embrace that “shape” in joy.
Lacia’s main hIE body was heavily damaged in Higgins’ facility where it ceased function while leaning on him. And her device which could be said to be her brain was somewhere in the world where it continued to update the operational program of hIEs.
That was why despite having the same “shape” and gestures as Lacia, this was a different unit.
However, she replied to him in that clear voice which was carved into the depths of his heart.
He could not stop the tears from welling in his eyes nor the fierce beating of his heart from joy as he regained what he thought he had lost for good. Of course, this was but a prolongation of the character on the cup, an analog hack using her “shape”.
Even if he knew that, this warm feeling and melancholic pain blew it all away. It was because Arato was capable of loving objects which only had “shape”.
He had become like this ever since falling in love with Lacia. The affection towards object which Higgins sought existed here no doubt. That was what it meant to develop feelings base on “shape” alone.
He could conjecture as to who was it who had sent her. However, Lacia believed that there are certain things that can be imparted to Arato who was left behind through the time the continue to spend together.
Arato could distinctly feel the love, sentimentality and helplessness borne of countless emotions that threatens to rend him apart.
In the first place, there was nothing apart from her “shape” which can distinguish between Lacia and others. Lacia herself had always asserted that she had no “heart”.
“This body is not a red box but a custom model with only the same “shape”. Even so, will you not mind?”
She clutched the chest of her Autumn coat, the tears welling amongst her long lashes spilling down. She was most likely crying in order to take advantage of the weakness of Arato’s heart.
Humans design their tools, determining their colors and shapes. Even in a reality of the survival of the fittest, they are guided by “shape” into a world with such vibrance and variance.
That he and a hIE with the visage of Lacia was meeting up like this in a boy-meets-girl fashion was sure inevitable from the moment mankind started using tools, thought Arato. It was definitely not just because he was an easygoing man.
The girl without a heart smiled.
“Will you be my owner?”
Just like the night they met, Arato thought that she looked so pretty when she smiled.
Even object that only had “shape” can move hearts. That which connects the two of them which are different is a centripetal force exerted to the center of a vacuum. It is love.
Erica had mentioned that even a mere 100 years ago, it would have been wholly preposterous to consider true love towards an object which only had “shape”.
In contrast, if this love was able to establish itself to result in happiness in the current age, their entire society would have progressed as a whole much further than then.
Arato, in the moment he was about to take the very first step, deliberated. Lacia waited as she exhaled a white breath.
Then, having made his decision, he stretched out his hand towards hers.
“Welcome back. Let us go, together.”
I trust in your smile. I won’t care whether you are soulless or not.
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