When I came to, I found myself in an empty room.
My eyes opened. Light flickered in and out of the tank, sunlight through a crumbled ceiling. Ruins of God knows what. I found myself numb and unfeeling, submerged in liquid. Cold steel was attached to my body. Apparatuses in the mouth and nose, probes along the spine. Wires along my arms. A monitor over the breast, where my heart must be. My eyes flicker open for the first time.
Senses come on, one-by-one. I think of lights in a city, counting them as they blink on, but I can’t remember how or why. A city I don’t know. It occurs to me then. I don’t know anything at all.
It’s cold. I shiver. It’s dark. I struggle to see. Something thumps, a slow rhythm. The beating of my heart. I hear sounds, distant, like I’m at the bottom of the sea.
Gunshots. Boots against steel. Voices and chatter and radio static.
An impossible memory. I can’t have felt. I can’t have seen or heard. But I remember it now; I relive that memory, a clip in repeat. Maybe it was a delusion of mine, how I’d imagined it must have been. Maybe it was a dream I’ve had, the mind writing memories now where none existed.
A face looks at mine, through glass and amorphous ice. I look back at him. A kindly smile.
Within this murky dream, I saw you for the first time.
Originally Posted by Contents
She remembered it like yesterday, because it was.
The girl found herself on a hospital room, or something that resembled one, anyway. Colorless walls. White sheets. The electrical humming of machinery, a low, steady rhythm. A blank curtain cut off her section of the room from the rest, and it resembled a colorless box.
She tried to raise herself up, and winced. Her joints ground into each other like stone. Her spine ached. With difficulty, she raised a hand. Open. Close. Her movements were sluggish, as if the signalling to each digit had slowed to a crawl, as if something had blocked up the signals, flickers of electricity. She thought of clogged pipes, decades of accumulated dust and rust and rot, drawing water for the first time in years. Of course, she knew nerves didn’t work that way.
She looked down at her arms, and saw they were bandaged.
Falling back into her pillow, she waited. For what, she hadn’t a clue. She listened. She felt. She explored her senses for the first time in God knew how long.
An oxygen mask covered her face, a steady, cold stream to her nose and lungs. She turned her head with difficulty, and saw a mess of medical equipment, of monitors and electrocardiographs, of numbers and charts and flickering displays she didn’t know the meaning of. She heard distant waves and cries of gulls. It was bright in here, and if she focused, she could feel a faint rhythm, the room rocking back and forth. It made her feel ill.
She looked down, and saw a name—
—whose, I wonder—
—that she did not recognize. A label. She trouble reading it upside down, and tried to turn her head, to get a better view. She winced as something seemed to pop in her neck. She rubbed it with her hand and felt a scar.
She read the name, or tried, at least. She didn’t recognize the characters, four blocky things, lined up in a row. The second one had the radical for ‘water’ on its left, though she couldn’t make out much more. The third one, the only one she could make out, was the character for ‘white’.
An unfamiliar thing. She frowned. Come to think of it, nothing here was familiar. She hadn’t the slightest clue how she got here. She tried to remember, what had happened. She failed.
She fell back onto the bed, listening to the sound of the sea. Nothing remained in her memories but a delirious dream.
“How is she?”
The man frowned. He wasn’t sure why they kept asking him this, seeing as how he wasn’t the doctor, and hadn’t really a clue about medicine. Hell, if this woman was a nurse, wouldn’t she know better than him? He shrugged, and nodded towards the window, and the woman looked through, watching the girl as she laid on the bed. Her figure was slight and pale, her movements stiff. She stirred, slightly, eyes blearily taking in her surroundings. Her first movements in a long while. You didn’t have to know her story to know this just from looking at her.
The woman clicked her tongue, and sighed. “Poor thing. The only survivor, too. But that’s not what I meant.”
“How is she mentally. Can she speak? Hear? Think? Though I don’t suppose you’ve talked to her, yet?”
He shook his head. “She just woke up, as you came by.”
She laughed. “It’ll have to be you, you know.” The man frowned, but she continued. “You’re the only one here that really speaks Japanese.”
“—Was born in Europe.”
She smiled apologetically. He sighed. “Will she even remember how to talk?”
A nod. “Perhaps. AS typically affects episodic, rather than semantic, memory. Not to say that her semantic memory will be completely untouched, but the spread to the rest of the brain only happened in the later stages— spread to the brainstem, that was what killed. She was just lucky enough to get thrown into stasis beforehand.”
“...How do we know she’s Japanese?”
“Well, we found her in Japan.”
“At one of Pieceman’s facilities. Considering the man’s work, she could’ve been a fly-in from China, or Korea. So how do we—”
“Her name, Nanashi.” The nurse sighed. “Come on, what’re you afraid of?”
He grimaced. Well, that was that. There was no talking his way out of this one, he supposed.
He sighed, and made his way to the door. The nurse patted him on the back and smiled, as she took her leave. He wasn’t great at comforting others, but he was great, unfortunately, at making girls cry. And now, he supposed, it was that time again, for that to bite him in the ass. He took a breath and opened the door.
The patient sat on the bed, propping herself up on a pillow. She watched a seagull perched on the windowsill. The salty breeze wafted in past it. Sunlight poured in, illuminating the colorless room to a nearly nauseatingly clean white. He frowned. Maybe not the best sight to wake up to after such a long nap, but oh well. It’s not like they could spare the budget for better decor.
He pulled up a chair, and seated himself by the bed. Slowly, she turned to look at him. Her skin was pale, and scarred in several places. He looked at her arms, and saw marks like burns. The resuscitation had been mostly successful, but some tissue had retained damage from the cold. A part of him wondered how much of her brain tissue had been damaged by it all. That, combined with the surgery and drugs for the AS treatment, and he wondered how much of herselfremained. A part of him wondered how she’d react to it all, and another part of him dreaded it.
But he didn’t tell her any of that. Instead, he smiled.
She blinked in response. Almost shocked, as if she couldn’t believe her ears. She opened her mouth to speak, but a noise— halfway between a cough and a choke and a grunt— came out instead. She looked upset at this, and he almost sighed, but managed to not let it show. He supposed her vocal cords might not have recovered yet.
After some struggling, perhaps a minute or five of starts and stops, she managed to form words. “Hello.”
He nodded, and spoke slowly. “Can you understand me?”
A brief moment to process. Her speech was slow, and dull. “...Yes.”
He looked for the label that should’ve been on her bed, but it wasn’t there. She seemed to be playing with it in her hands; slow, clumsy movements.
“What’s your name?”
“...I don’t know.”
“You don’t remember?”
She shook her head. She looked upset.
She continued to play with the label, frowning at it as she turned it over in her hands. Her hands shook, dull clumsy movements. She wouldn’t raise her eyes, and only continued to stare at the characters. She held it up for him to read.
“I see.” He smiled, if it would be any comfort. Tread carefully. He wasn’t keen on making anyone cry. “Good morning, then, Ms. Kishinami.”
They fell silent at that. He, to consider his next move, on how to approach the subject. She, to observe the man, this familiar stranger who had entered the room. Dark skin. White hair. Faintly golden eyes. Gulls circled outside the window, the sea visible beyond that, islands on the distant horizon. To his surprise, she spoke up.
“Where are we?”
“The East China Sea. If that means anything to you, anyway.”
She blinked, and nodded. He wasn’t sure if that was a nod of confirmation, or just a nod in general. He leaned forward. “I’ll cut right to the chase, then. Do you remember anything?”
She frowned at that, her brow furrowed. Perhaps she was digging at what remained of her memories, or perhaps she couldn’t find anything at all. A shake of the head.
“I’ll fill you in, then. It won’t do to dance around the subject.
“We don’t know anything about you either, other than your medical records, and your name,” he said. “These say you were a victim of AS— Amnesia syndrome, colloquially, though the proper medical term is Grain-induced cerebral sclerosis. I suppose, from the name, you can guess what it does?”
She nodded. He continued.
“Anterograde and retrograde. The loss of the ability to form new memories, and to retrieve old ones. A symptom of a greater problem, but the most well-known. Hence the name. Given time, the hardening of tissue would spread to the rest of the brain, resulting in death; so I’ve been told, anyway. It wasn’t treatable at the time, so you were put into stasis. This happened in around the year 2000. That’s what the records say.”
He shifted in his seat, and leaned back. “I don’t know much of what happened after, but we found you. A treatment had already been discovered, and the operation has been a success.” He smiled. “You’re cured now.”
“...Thank you,” she said.
“I didn’t actually do anything.”
She blinked. “Then why—”
“I’m the only other one here who speaks Japanese.”
The man got up from his seat, turning to leave. “The organization that had ordered your preservation had long since been destroyed, though your life support managed to survive. We’ll have you with us for the moment, until we reach shore and find a sanctuary. Until then, our staff will be providing mental and physical therapy, until you can be discharged. That should be all, for the moment.” And with that, he made his way to the door.
For a brief moment, she hesitated. “What’s your name?”
He frowned, and decided to give the usual answer. “Nanashi.”
As he reached for the door, she spoke.
She looked frowned, almost angry, or with as much anger a girl as exhausted as she could muster. “What kind of name is Nameless?”
The man stared at her, mouth slightly open, and laughed. That was probably the most he’d ever heard her say. Of course. He was so used to being surrounded by non-Japanese speakers, that he had almost forgotten she might’ve been able to understand his name.
“You’re right, it’s a pretty silly name.”
And with that, he left.
She learned a lot over the next few days.
Well, not much. Two things really, but they were the only two things she knew. The first, that her name was apparently “Hakuno Kishinami”, and that people had trouble pronouncing the latter part. It didn’t feel like her name, even if it was. But she wasn’t really sure what felt like it would be her name. It was what they called her, and that was all that mattered.
The second, that they were on a military vessel, of sorts.
She wasn’t sure what a military vessel should have looked like, but she was still quite sure of that fact. No one told her this outright, but she could deduce that from what she had seen. Between physical therapy sessions, medical tests, psychological examinations, the works, sometimes, she found the occasion to wander about the ship on her own.
Her condition wasn’t good enough that she could walk about on her own, but if she had a wheelchair, or her nurse with her, she could get a bit of fresh air.
Most of the men and women she’d see in her free time wore body armor or uniforms; some with balaclavas, others with masks. They carried rifles in their hands and blades at their sides. Some had limbs that shined like metal, others had crystalline structures embedded in their skin. Here and there, someone would have strange machines attached to their bodies— to their spines, or foreheads, or projecting out of their arms.
Among the soldiers, she would find some with strange markings on their bodies— across their arms or chests or eyes— like veins and circuitry that glowed, an eerie mechanical light. Nanashi, the strange looking man she had first met, was one of them, green lines that ran along the length of his arms, that faded in and out like a trick of the light. She had seen a few others, too, with the same condition— a blonde girl with Asian features, an old man in a dress uniform, a woman with nearly purple hair, and so on— and hadn’t talked to a single one.
Half of her felt that she should’ve found all this strange. The other half couldn’t figure out what was strange about them.
The lingua franca of the vessel was English. Her memories, she was told, had degraded, but she still understood snippets of English here and there, and could even speak a few phrases. She didn’t know where she picked it up. “Hello.” “Goodbye.” “Where’s the bathroom?” “Thank you.”
Hakuno had only two conversation partners. The first, Nanashi, the only one here who could speak her tongue. The other, her nurse, who used the former as an interpreter and translator. A nice, friendly lady, who was born in Bordeaux and earned her degree at the Sorbonne. She hadn’t a clue what either of those places were, though simply smiling and nodding seemed to satisfy. The nurse’s name was Léonne, and she had trouble pronouncing her name. Léonne thought it was cute.
Nanashi however, didn’t seem too keen on talking to her. She got the feeling that she— her very presence, really— bothered him, and he kept their conversations brief and formal. Filling her in on her physical therapy sessions, explaining the layout of the ship, the works. She didn’t have a past to talk about, and as far as she knew, neither did he.
She didn’t know why he called himself Nanashi, but no one else seemed to find the name odd. He’d write the name with the characters, ‘seven’ and ‘will’, a disguise that should’ve been as paper-thin as a pair of Groucho glasses. She wasn’t sure what Groucho glasses were, or how she’d even remembered such a thing. But they were the first thing to pop into her mind.
He also made her meals. They were better than she’d expected.
It was lonely, in a way. If she knew English before, she’d remember soon enough, so they assured her. The hardening of the brain tissue caused by AS had been reversed— all it was now was a matter of if the memories and associations had survived this process, both the hardening and dehardening, and the resuscitation from stasis. Some memories were bound to have lost, anyway, but others would come back to her soon enough. She didn’t know how she felt about this. All that remained was a sense that something was lost, and that something would return.
She could feel neither happy nor sad about it all. It was a difficult feeling to process. It was hard to care about something that was gone, if she didn’t know what even had been lost.
It was harder to care about something that was to return, if she didn’t even know how she felt about it in the first place.
Feeling nothing, thinking nothing, her days on the ship passed like a dream.
“She has Circuits, you know.”
In a secluded quarter of the ship, there was a room that normally remained locked. The common soldiers knew little of what it was for, but they’d speculate, spread rumors. Confidential meetings, stores of top-secret weapons, dark secrets of the organization that owned them. That sort of thing. In reality, it was really nothing more than an empty room, with little more than a plastic table and several chairs, a room the higher ups had yet to come up with a purpose for. You could enter through the back door, which led to the one of the meeting rooms. Perhaps some day, they’d figure out what they wanted for it. But until then, it was little more than an empty room, occupied by two figures.
A blonde woman paced back and forth, irritably speaking. A small terminal sat on the table, its projected hologram slowly rotating about its base. A man seated at a chair managed his equipment, listening all the while, polishing something in his hand.
This was the fourth time she had brought up the topic. His eyebrow must’ve twitched. ‘Rin’— he hated calling her Rin— was persistent on this, no matter how much he tried to dodge this topic. He knew what came next, what she’d like to say.
This Hakuno had Circuits. How, they didn’t know. Results in the database for any Kishinami bloodline all came up cold; if he had to guess, by a genetic mutation. Plausible. He’d talk about coincidences, but he wasn’t one to talk. Perhaps these dormant circuits were the behind how she, alone, survived resuscitation. The rest had died in their pods, at the Pieceman facility.
And what then? The obvious answer. Conscription. Resocialization. Recruit training. Getting sent to the warzones and killing fields, out of the frying pan and into the blender, all because you had an unfortunate, albeit useful, mutation. The practice was widespread, the secret of Circuits out, after that fateful day thirty years ago.
It didn’t sit right with him. Not the practice itself— it was ugly, cruel, but necessary to survive. It was the new arms war, a crime all sides were guilty of, and neither side could afford to let up. No, what bothered him was the particular cruelty of this case. Here’s a girl whose wakes up after thirty years, her self and past and entire world gone without a trace, and what does she wake up to? A gun, a Code, and a veritable death sentence. And it’d be so easy, too. Little of the girl’s self remained for her to refuse, to object. She had no choice.
He sighed. Ideally, they could at least give her a choice, or the illusion of one. A decision, to either join their cause of the return to that ordinary life of hers that had been robbed from her. Of course, if the ideal situation was possible, they wouldn’t have to—
‘Rin’ looked angry. “Were you even listening?”
“Then what’d I just say?”
“Ah, well…” He put a hand to his chin. “Something about the patient—?”
“You weren’t listening.”
He shrugged. She sighed, and rubbed her forehead. “Come on. Take this seriously, will you?”
“Then why don’t you—”
“—want to drag this patient into our war?”
“...That’s not…” She frowned. “Well, yes, but that’s not what this is about.”
“But it’s still what it is all the same, no?” He snorted. “Here’s someone who’s woken up for the first time in over thirty years, who’s lost her home and memory and everything that she could have had, who’s still a child—”
“And her AS onset when she was fourteen.” His voice grew heated. He wasn’t used to this sort of anger. “She lost three years of her childhood to this thing, and thirty more years from the stasis. Her life was taken from her, and now she has it back. And now you want to take it away again?”
“Orders from above, from the Queen herself, Nanashi. I have no say in this, and neither do you.”
“Then why consult me?”
“Because we need you for this.”
“And I won’t drag a child into a war, our war, a war she doesn’t believe in—”
“—Funny. I wouldn’t think you, of all people, would object to that.”
He fell silent, at that. Stared.
“I—” Her expression softened. Traces of worry. Guilt. “I’m sorry.” Her voice had quieted, now. “Look— I know how you feel.”
“But, and listen to me here, the moment she was born with Circuits, that life was taken from her. You’re right, it’s cruel for us to drag her into this, to take that life away from her again, but you know what would be crueller? To throw her out in the world, for someone else to find. She has Circuits, Nanashi. Sooner or later she’ll be found out. They would do the same as we would. Maybe even worse. So please.”
“We’re protecting her, Nanashi. This is the best she’ll get.”
He knew what, she didn’t have to say. It’s not like the girl could reject what they made her do. Her life was at their mercy. So please what?
“She’ll have to get surgery, again.”
“It’s not a dangerous operation.”
“She’ll have to be trained for all this.”
“We have trainers to spare.”
“...What would you have me do?”
And that was that. He couldn’t argue. He hadn’t even any reason to argue.
The terminal sat on the table, quietly humming along as it worked. His eyes lingered on it. A weary sigh. “Fine.”
She smiled. “You know, it’s not like you to be so much of a bleeding-heart.”
He grunted, and returned to his task. This was, in the end, the most rational decision, but he still hated it all the same. He sat wordlessly, and ‘Rin’ stopped pacing. He held up the jewel he had been polishing up to a dim ceiling light, which bounced about its surface, a glimmering blood red. It spun slowly about its chain. Silence crept in, drowning distant waves.
He spoke. “Have the reports come in?” A change of subject.
“The facility. It’s how we found the girl, anyway. Find anything?”
She shook her head, looking irritable. “Nothing new. At least, we’ve found fragments and rough drafts of the man’s manifesto. You know the one. But none of the material itself is new, or new to us, anyway. There were signs of other things stored there— documents, hard drives, and whatnot— but they’re beyond salvaging. Damaged beyond repair, from the bombings.”
“Has the team tried analyzing the drafts? You know. To predict his thought process, or rationale, or whatever it was you were doing?”
She shrugged. “I suppose so. Maybe they’re working on that now. But the thought process of a dead man’s no good to us. At most, it’d give us a reason, a motive, but the virus spread mostly on its own. After his death,” she said.
“Guessing you don’t believe in the cyber ghost theory?”
A derisive snort. “Superstition.”
“Said the magus.”
“Magic’s dead. There’s only the Net for us, now. And I was never a magus, you know; at least not a real one.” He blinked, and sighed. He must’ve mixed her up with her.
Come to think of it, this must’ve been the first time she’s admitted they were different people.
“But really now,” she continued, “A virus of ideology doesn’t need the man himself to spread it personally. It comes with the territory. That’s how ideas are.”
“I see. Does that refute the cyber ghost theory?”
“No. But an explanation doesn’t need it. The cyber ghost theory just needlessly complicates the thing.” She frowned as him, her look incredulous. “You don’t… believe that rumor, right?”
He shrugged. “There’s just the question, of who propagated the thing in the first place,” he said, getting up from seat. He pocketed the pendant. “But it’s none of my concern. It’s your specialty, not mine. I’m a soldier, not a thinker.”
She crossed her arms. “Liar. But whatever. As long as these wars and attacks continue, it’s everyone’s concern. It’s time now. She should be done just about now.”
He nodded, as he made his way to the door.
“You’ll keep your word, right?”
A grunt of affirmation. And with that, he left.
Silence settled back into the room. Electrical equipment hummed. The girl sat herself down on the seat.
“See? We can trust him. He’ll keep his word.”
The image on the terminal flickered. It was shaped like an eye.
“See to it that he does.”
The man came by as she was resting in her room.
She had finished her physical therapy for the day, and she was exhausted. Her body had been improving, however. Memories were beginning to return to her— nothing episodic, like who she was or where she came from, but her motor skills. Walking now was not as hard as it used to be. Her hand was steady enough to draw and write, again. She didn’t need a wheelchair to get around, and could manage on her own with crutches. Soon, she wouldn’t need them.
The room wasn’t as gloomy as before. She’d found things to decorate it with, and Léonne had helped her with it. A few photos sat by the bedside. There hadn’t been much to take pictures of, out here in the middle of the sea, so she only had pictures of seagulls and sunsets to keep her company. Once, she even managed to snap a shot of what looked like a large fish, leaping out of the water.
Her eyes settled on him, as he entered the room. She frowned. It was strange, really. It was rare for him to come by at these hours. He sat himself on the chair again, the same one he’d taken before.
“I suppose I have something important to discuss with you.”
She tilted her head slightly, and he continued. An ironic smile, like he had just recalled a bad joke.
“Well, to start off, I guess you could say I’m a magus.”
AN: Thanks, as usual, to Frosty for beta-ing. And also thanks to Dullahan, both for beta-ing too, and for developing some ideas for this premise, though they haven't really came up in detail yet. And thanks to GD for answering my F/E questions.
If it hasn't been clear by now, this is based on the outside world of Extra, tying it in with an almost pre-Notes setting. So no Moon Cell, no Servants, no Heroic Spirits. The point of the thing is to explore the outside world in detail, with more focus on cyberpunk-ish elements, though more GitS-like than Neuromancer-like.
"Nanashi" is a joke on Emiya being called "Mumei" in Extra/Extella.