Thursday - 12:45
"Again, Thaddeus," I said. "That's not how it works. The device just copies the soul and sends the copy to the fantasy world. Your soul stays in your body."
"You don't need to keep pretending," Thaddeus said. "I experienced it all. I was sent to a fantasy world, charged with overthrowing the demon king, and ended up with a harem of girls. I could tell you in specific details about what happened along the way."
"Look, Thaddeus," I once again stressed. "Even if your real soul was sent, you would have ended up forgetting about it. Otherwise, we would have hundreds or thousands of prior targets demanding retribution. In addition, I saw your body get up after getting hit, which means that you obviously were still alive. So if you are suggesting that we copied your soul but we sent the real one instead and left the copy, that wouldn't make sense. There wouldn't be any reason to send the real soul when we could send the copy."
"I can't explain how it happened, but I can tell you my experience. After defeating the demon lord and living happily ever after, I was jolted back to reality, like a snapped rubber band. Three months had passed in the real world, yet I knew both what transpired in the real world and what happened in the fantasy world.
"It sounds like you perhaps need to get your head examined," I said. "Perhaps you suffered a little brain injury or you perhaps have an overactive imagination. Either way, let's say you are telling the truth. Perhaps it was a unique accident and only your soul was sent while other people's copied souls were sent. If that's truly the case, then I apologize, but I assure you that we aren't hiding anything from you."
I then realized that the kid's entire persona had been crafted to fool me. Thaddeus had acted excited to learn about TRUCK-KUN, but that wasn't out of any desire to become a good agent. It was simply a disguise so that he could get his questions answered so that he could find out what had happened to him. It must have been extremely difficult for him to act as innocently as he had when all along he felt extreme trauma over not being able to save the girl...assuming that what Thaddeus had told me about himself and the story of not being able to save the girl were true.
Thaddeus stayed silent for a minute before uttering the sentence that was already on my mind. "I believe you. However, perhaps you are also being lied to, and the truth is being hidden from you as well."
I still didn't think that what Thaddeus said made sense, but while contemplating my pupil's words, I suddenly recalled something the manager had said. My heart skipped a beat as I realized that Thaddeus' claim could have fit into what Theodore had said.
To get to the bottom of this mystery, I needed to do some snooping. With that in mind, there was only one obvious place to start.
The manager's office.
* * *
Thursday – 14:00
An hour later, I made my move. I was staking out the ground floor of the main building waiting for Theodore to leave. Theodore eventually came out of the elevator and started heading towards the garage. I wasn't sure how much time I would have, so I needed to be fast. I quickly made it to the manager's office with the temporary access card that the manager had provided me.
Once inside, I looked around for any prominent place to start and decided to check the computer. The computer was locked, but I figured it wasn't highly secure since getting into the office would typically be impossible. The password was probably something easy, so I input 'Theodore,' and it worked.
I went through the emails and the desktop files but didn't see anything suspicious. If there was a conspiracy, Theodore obviously didn't display them in plain sight. I typed keywords into the search engines to find some results, but that didn't lead anywhere.
I starting checking the drawers and cabinets but was quickly interrupted by the sound of the elevator chime.
Drat, he returned quicker than I expected.
I quickly logged off the computer and put everything back in place before rushing to the chair opposite the desk and sitting down.
I was just in time. Theodore entered the room, saw me sitting down, and casually strolled to his chair as if somebody being in his office unannounced didn't surprise him.
"I have been expecting you, Tobias," Theodore said calmly. "I assume you have reached a decision about whether to accept or decline the manager position?"
"Yes! That's correct,” I lied, happy for the excuse. "I have decided to accept, after all."
"That's fantastic," Theodore said.
"However," I continued, "I need to ask about something first. Is there anything that you have been hiding from me about the work that TRUCK-KUN does?"
"What do you mean?" Theodore asked. "What's there to hide? It isn't like that we pretend that we are righteous. What we do is frowned upon at best and deplorable at worst. We still proceed with the business though."
"I have been thinking through some events, both recent and distant," I said, "and I remembered hearing a conversation of yours over the phone that fits into what I theorized."
I didn't want to involve Thaddeus yet, which was why I had told Thaddeus to go to his dorm room to wait things out while I investigated. They mostly trusted one another at this point.
"What did I supposedly say?" Theodore asked.
"It wasn't explicit," I said, "but you were talking to another person on the phone about how you were needed to Isekai some souls. However, you never mentioned them being copied once. There was also no mention of it at the ISEKAI meeting. You also said when you invited me here for the first time that you couldn't believe that everybody was so gullible. Put that all together with my natural paranoid nature, and it's impossible to stop contemplating."
It was extremely weak and circumstantial at best, but I wasn't trying to prove a point to a jury. I was just trying to convince Theodore that I knew enough already to be told the secret if it existed. The theory would also explain why I started having nightmares after hitting Thaddeus since that was also the same day that I had heard the manager talk about it. Prophetic visions weren’t the cause of them, but rather my subconscious caught on even back then and buried the idea deep in my mind. That would also explain why my dreams got worse that one time after initiation. That must have been since it was after meeting Thaddeus, which my mind must have subconsciously recognized, causing me to wonder what was going on and realize this deep, dark truth.
Theodore sighed loudly and laced his fingers on his desk. He then got his cell phone out and typed something on it for a minute before turning back to me. "Ok, Tobias. Sit down. There is indeed something that I have been hiding from you, and it's better that you know the truth to prevent you from coming up with other falsehoods.
"So, this is what is actually going on. The souls that are sent to the fantasy worlds are in fact real souls and not copies."
Huh, so Thaddeus wasn't wrong about that after all.
That revelation itself was more surprising to me than the fact that he had been lied to this whole time.
* * *
Thursday - 14:15
"But why send the real souls when you can just send the copied souls?" I asked.
Theodore sighed again and gave me a condescending glare. "Come on. You can figure it out. It isn't hard."
I gave it a little thought. "Perhaps the copied soul isn't perfect and the fantasy worlds need the original soul since it's better quality?"
"You are overthinking it," Theodore said. "Sometimes the simplest solution is the correct one."
"What do you me-" I cut off the sentence once the obvious answer hit me in the face. "There are no copies, are there?"
Theodore smiled in satisfaction. "That is correct. You think we could actually copy a soul? We don't even fully know what a soul is or if what we are sending are really considered souls. They are an unquantifiable factor, so of course we aren't able to copy them. If we could copy them, then we could also produce them. Really, it's crazy how much people are willing to believe something that a person with authority tells them."
"So what's the actual Isekai process?" I asked.
"I could hardly do the full explanation justice," Theodore replied, "but I will do my best. We may not be able to quantify what a soul is, but we do know that a soul is data in one form or another and that we can only send data to other worlds. Theoretically, it may be possible to send physical objects as well since technically everything is data, though that would require a redonkulous amount of energy. Therefore, it wouldn't even be worth it. That being said, it's still being experimented with at the moment.
"Either way, Isekai devices work in several different ways, but the one that TRUCK-KUN uses works like this. Once attached, it accumulates the kinetic energy of the truck. After the vehicle hits the target, all of the stored energy that would usually kill or injure the target is instead transferred kinetically to force the body's soul out toward the device's specified fantasy world.
"That's also why the target isn't injured during the process. We obviously don't have methods of instant healing or perfect shielding. When the device hits the target, all that energy plus the aftereffects of the body landing are focused on the soul instead of the body.
"Wait a second," I interrupted. "If the original soul is pushed out of the body and you don't actually make souls, then how do the bodies keep on living and moving?"
"The answer should be self-explanatory," Theodore responded. "Clearly, humans don't need souls to live. Alternatively, it isn't like we can quantify what souls really are or verify that what we are actually sending to fantasy worlds are even what most people consider souls to be in the first place. That's just what we call the miscellaneous data of the target that we send over. This is how we think of it. The brain is a sponge, and even though we push the soul out of the body, the brain still has a memory of the soul imprinted onto it, thus causing the person to continue the course they were previously on. However, the soulless person wouldn't be able to do anything innovative or unique. It would sort of be like a robot, following a set of orders built into it. While the person would have more autonomy than that, that's the basic explanation."
"Then how come on my mission with the tractor, I was able to Isekai the target when I barely grazed him?" I asked.
"Well, for one thing," Theodore said, "it's about the kinetic energy that the device accumulated, not the speed that you hit the target with, but that isn't even the reason in that case. If I remember what happened correctly, the target nearly died of shock before you grazed him. Once that happened, forcing the soul out of the body would have been much easier. This is since the soul would have been about to leave already."
"Then what happens after the soul is transferred?" I asked.
"The soul is transported to the fantasy world," Theodore said. "The people who commissioned the soul would have prepared a body for the soul to inhabit. Most often, the body is fashioned after the original and is sometimes imbued with abilities. If the soul doesn't have that type of technology though, they would force the soul into another person's body, which can be done in several ways. Then they return to our world once the energy that kept their souls anchored their runs out, causing the soul to return like a homing beacon to its original body."
"Then how come they don't remember being in a fantasy world?" I asked. "When does the mind-wiping effect take place?
Theodore chuckled in amusement. "Of course they remember what happened. We can't erase memories any more than we can heal people. While it's possible that the process of the soul's detachment and reattachment could mess up the memories a little, that a rare case. You see, while they are in the fantasy world, their brain is still absorbing information like a normal person. Therefore, when the soul returns, it picks up the memories of the brain as if it experienced them itself. Thus, the brain's memories convince the soul's memories that they were just from a dream or from something they watched, read, or heard about. Like with most dreams that people have, the experience is then quickly forgotten."
Now everything is starting to make sense, I realized. Thaddeus told me that he barely sleeps and that he couldn't experience dreams. Plus, his parents didn't let him watch television or read those types of stories. Therefore, he wouldn't have thought it was a dream or something he had seen but instead would have remembered the experience as reality.
That's when I wondered about something. Something had been bothering me throughout the entire conversation, and I just realized what it was. Theodore had mentioned telling me the actual truth so I wouldn't spread lies, but what I said before hadn't been a lie. That meant that there was still something significant that the manager hadn't told I yet. Although, now I had a clue to what it may be.
"I was hit by a truck when I was a little boy," I said. "Was I also transported to another world without knowing it?" I considered that line of reasoning in my head and came across another vital realization. "I get it now. TRUCK-KUN itself is part of a fantasy world. I was forced here against my will and was given a position to do the same towards others. That's it, isn't it. Your big secret. This place itself is a fantasy world!"
Theodore stared at me in stunned silence for a few suspenseful seconds. Then he reared his head back and laughed loudly enough for me to need to cover his ears.
"Wow!" Theodore exclaimed. "You are paranoid. Unfortunately, it won't be that easy for you to cast off the burden of what you have done. This isn't a fantasy world...at least, it's not where you are concerned. You were born here. So you can't blame ISEKAI or TRUCK-KUN for anything that you have done. You were the agent that sent hundreds of souls to different worlds. If you have developed a guilty conscience, then you have to live with it. Deluding yourself into thinking otherwise isn't healthy."
"But I didn't know the truth," I said, a little dejected after being told that he was fully to blame for his actions. "I just thought that I was sending a copied soul to the fantasy worlds."
"What's so wrong with the way it really is?" Theodore asked. "There still isn't killing involved. The souls eventually return back to their bodies and they move on living their lives."
"But even if they aren't being killed, it's still wrong. You're taking away their ability to live as purposefully as they would have otherwise. You are stealing part of their potential. It is theft..." I trailed off what I was saying, realizing that it was precisely the argument that Thaddeus had used against me. I knew that I wouldn't be able to convince anybody of the moral problems with what they were doing.
"You weren't completely wrong though," Theodore said. "Your accident as a kid was related to TRUCK-KUN. You see, one of the agents accidentally ran you over when you suddenly ran into the street that night. Since your soul wasn't keyed to any fantasy world, it didn't stick, and your soul quickly returned to its body."
That explains how I miraculously survived and left the hospital the following day.
"Who was the agent that ran me over?" I asked.
"I am glad you asked," Theodore said, "since that very person is waiting outside ready to come in." The manager pressed a button, causing the door to buzz and open up. I had a bad feeling in my gut, and my fear wasn't unfounded. This was the biggest revelation thus far.
The man who had entered the room was my mentor, Terry.