“You two wouldn’t have happened to have seen a short brown haired girl walking around here would ya?” came the amicable voice of Shinya, the would be chief investigator.
After quickly scanning his face with her eyes, she was able to immediately recognize the man from back when she saw him in the cafeteria - this was definitely a DIA investigator.
“Oh, are you talking about Chiyo Amagi, sir?” Aria asked, feigning ignorance. “I actually haven’t seen her at all today. Say, aren’t you a DIA agent? Couldn’t you track her by accessing her N-chip’s data.”.
Shinya was surprised at how simple yet sound the solution that the girl that was in front of him was posing. Under normal circumstances, the solution that she was suggesting would have worked- unfortunately for him though, it turned out that their N-chip tracker wasn’t working. Or rather, that it wasn’t able to find who they were looking for, despite the fact that all the other test subjects they had tried were able to be tracked within seconds.
Choosing not to let two normal high school students know that the DIA wasn’t able to track down a simple high school student using their infallible N-chip trackers, Shinya remained silent and simply nodded as if having just found the solution to his problem. Tipping his cap to the two students in front of him, he turned back around and started pacing across the floor with a mixture of solemnity and spunkiness that could only be characterized by a young and ambitious trainee trying to make a name for himself.
Aria let out a deep sigh.
“That was too close for comfort…” Aria admitted.
As soon as the trainee was no longer in sight, the hallway was devoid of anyone else except Aria and Isei.
There was a palpable silence across the hallway.
“Let’s ditch school.”
The school bell suddenly sounded, and the hallways soon became flooded with students.…
This situation was familiar, oddly enough. Just like back when I had to pseudo-escort Aria back home after she had broken into my room, I was now following her to God-knows-where- still keeping my distance from her as I let her lead the way. The distance between us wasn’t as great before though, I suppose that that was just a byproduct of having gotten to know her more. I still didn’t trust her completely, and I also still have no idea who the hell she is or what her game is - but at least now I had a decent enough sense that she wasn’t going to kill me.
She suddenly turned her head towards me as she kept walking.
“What’s with the distance? It’s not like I’m going to kill you or anything.”
She was definitely a mind reader.
At her reassuring remark (or was it actually a tacit threat?), I closed the distance between us and started walking next to her. We had managed to ditch school just like she suggested and now we were playing hooky. Hardly the sort of behavior you would expect from a goody-two-shoes honor’s student. Although now for me, it was a foregone conclusion that Aria was anything but that- after all, normal honor’s students don’t threaten cyborgs by telling them that they’ll “regret having ever crossed” them.
I had already managed to skip school a couple of times. The only times that I would do it were back whenever I first moved to Echo High back in my second year. It was easy enough to do it, all you had to do was pretend that you were an upperclassmen with an off period. As long as you played it cool, it was pretty easy to just walk out.
With Aria though it was surprisingly simpler. After waiting for the hallways to clear, we went to a hallway with no one around and she managed to use whatever it is that she does to herself to turn invisible. Even though I wasn’t able to pull off that same ability, just her touching me was enough to make me invisible. What means she used to employ such a technique were beyond me- but as long as it was going to be easier to skip, I wasn’t complaining.
We were walking the narrow back streets of the neighborhood that is immediately next to Echo. It was surprisingly desolate despite the weather being nice and sunny.
“Well, did you just agree to come with me just for the hell of it? Aren’t you going to use this time to ask the questions you were so desperately trying to know the answers to?”
“Yeah, of course… but first, where are we going?”
“So you just agree to things despite not knowing what you get yourself into? Honestly, Isei Kitagawa, everyday you make me question whether or not I should admire you or I should hold contempt for you. Maybe you are just both- you are in a quantum superposition of states. Can I call you Neko Isei?”
“Where are we going…?”
“Well, if you must know Neko Isei-”
“We are going to go to a gateway that will help answer all of your questions.”
A gateway? What the hell was she talking about? She made it sound as if we were going to transport to another world. If this was the beginning of my Isekai arc, I would much rather take with me another heroine. A heroine that wasn’t as rough around the edges and violent as this crazy robotic chick I have in front of me.
“Okay. So, I guess this is my second question… what makes you think that there’s a link between my condition and what has been happening to you?”
I felt that she hesitated slightly, but she answered quickly.
“I can’t say that I know for sure that there is a link. But someone that has a defective neurochip like you would be able to see the sort of gateway that I was talking about. Plus all the aberrations that you have been seeing are hardly characteristic of a citizen of the 2nd caste- which makes me think that you are actually someone from this caste who… might be able to see the world for what it is.”
“You keep talking about castes, what do you mean by all th-”
I suddenly paused before I could finish my sentence. What was now standing in front of us, a couple of meters away, was the same sort of blue force field that I had seen on the day that Aria broke into my room. My confusion only grew more rampant after realizing that we were not in the same location as before. Why was another blue forcefield here?
Noticing my confusion, Aria looked in front of her as if to assess what was worrying me.
“Ahhh… I see.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Would you happen to be seeing a huge blue wall right in front of us? A sort of field that stretches skyward and horizontally from this intersection?”
“Yeah, that’s it! You can see it too?”
“But of course I can! Even though my N-chip isn’t defective it is still not the sort of chip that you would find in the 2nd caste.”
This made sense. I was able to figure out that whatever technology her neocortex was relying on it wasn’t the same sort of tech that the place where I lived- the so called 2nd caste- was using. After all, the DIA system wasn’t able to detect her reaction to the crime that was being committed by that cyborg.
“All you really have to know about these is that they mark the beginning and the end of a certain district. You know how New Tokyo- well the 2nd caste to be more exact, is divided into eight districts? Well, there are force fields around New Tokyo, each of which marks the beginning and end of a district. “
“I knew that New Tokyo was divided into eight districts, but now that I think about it, I never really knew exactly where the dividing lines were.”
“There are a lot of things you don’t know about this place- things that they don’t tell you.”
After passing the force field, we kept meandering our way to wherever it was that Aria wanted to take me. I suddenly started to grow doubtful as to whether or not I had made the right decision. Then again, I was practically forced to come here. After all, if I didn’t then I would have become minced meat by the hand of the star of the third years.
“Say, Aria. You say how there are a lot of things that I don’t know about this place, but there are also a bunch of things I don’t know about you. Who are you and what’s your goal here?”
She remained quiet for a couple of subjectively long lasting seconds as we kept walking. She suddenly turned on a dime, as if knowing exactly where it was that she wanted to turn. We were now inside an alleyway.
There was nothing particularly noteworthy about this alleyway, with the typical things that you would expect from an alleyway that was between a convenience store and a hardware store. The walls were filled with graffiti and there was a dumpster that was overflowing with trash.
“We aren’t like the people here- Isei Kitagawa.” Aria said, as she was looking forward, her back to me.
“That’s why, we are able to sense things like this.” she stated, as she raised her hand in front of her, towards a small gate that closed off the alleyway.
Suddenly, a small portion of space ripped apart, like a shirt being torn off from its seams, revealing a dark crimson hue.
A portal in such an innocuous looking alleyway?
“You asked me who I am and what my goal is, Isei Kitagawa. I’m Aria Kanbaru and I want to reveal New Tokyo for what it really is and then change it. Will you come with me to the 3rd caste?” she stated with a sort of gravitas that was unmatched by anyone that I had ever interacted with, pointing at the crimson rupture of space.
As if I had a choice in the matter.
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