Chapter 10:

Trust Fall (5)

Glitches in the Digital Afterlife


A broody atmosphere could be felt by Amari from the pit. The tension was thick with an uncomfortable silence that filled the aircraft while the two passengers remained heavy in thought.

With every passing minute, Kagehisa found it less believable that Yume was dead. Thoughts about his own death were stowed far into the back of his mind. Reassured by the confidence and sincerity in Yume’s recollections, it simply left little room for him to question, but Yume hearing voices of people who seemed to be very much alive gleaned the possibility of her returning to life.

After all, people dying in books and movies were given that chance when caught between life and death. Perhaps the voices were clues of Yume being stuck in her limbo.

“Anything is possible if that exists…”

“What?”

Kagehisa blinked at the sudden question from Yume. “What?”

“You were mumbling to yourself.”

“Nothing,” he quickly answered, returning to his thoughts about the precarious situation.

As the jet docked in the hangar of the Compound, Yume was greeted by Sylas and Aslin. They were both donning last night’s clothes, and Aslin looked cheerful per usual. She bounded over when the doors opened, frantically waving at the new arrival.

“Yume!”

“Hey—oomph! Good morning,” Yume happily accepted Aslin’s suffocating hug. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to check in on you last night. How are you feeling?”

“Oh, don’t worry about me! Dr. B came to talk to me this morning, and we worked through some stuff. She even referred me to a good counsellor to see back in the city, so I have someone to talk to if… yeah.”

“That’s good.”

“Honestly, Dr. B’s pretty cool. All your coworkers here are super cool.”

Coworkers…

Yume looked over at Kagehisa and then over to Sylas. “What are you two doing in the hangar anyways?”

“We’re being sent home now that we’ve given our statements to your coworkers.”

“What do you mean you’re being sent home already?”

“It was partly our decision, but Corleone-san was adamant that we would only be a distraction for you, and she’s not wrong,” Sylas shrugged. “It sounds like you have a lot of work to catch up on now that you’re being reinstated as the captain.”

“What do you mean reinstated?”

The trio turned to the blond, a frown marred on his darkened face. Aslin and Sylas shared a look. Kagehisa didn’t wait for a response, marching away in a rush, leaving the small group to stand in the hangar dumbfounded.

“You both have been on edge the whole flight back,” Amari pointed out. “Are either of you okay?”

“Yeah, just got a lot going on. Do you mind if I have a moment alone with my friends?”

Amari nodded, turning back into the jet. “They are expecting you in the meeting room by the way.”

Once out of earshot, Yume turned to her friends. “You guys don’t have to leave right away, I’m sure if I talked to Rosie, she’d make some exception!”

“I’d love to stay in such a cool place, but gotta go home and take care of Nao-chan,” Aslin chirped, twirling around to show her exaggerated love for the Compound.

“Who’s Nao, a family member?”

“My Budgie!”

Yume recoiled from her assumptions, shocked to hear Aslin of all people being a pet owner. The Aslin she remembered was never home enough to even be seen by her friends, yet here she was, showing her lock screen wallpaper of the purple bird to Yume.

“Isn’t he just the cutest?!”

“Uh… Right, yes he’s adorable.”

“Anyways, we’ll keep in touch when you’re not as busy with work. Just don’t forget about me, alright?” Aslin sent a playful glare to Yume before breaking into her usual grin. “I’ll leave you lovebirds alone.”

With one final hug, Aslin bounded onto the jet with a shout. Her loud personality filled the small aircraft as she pointed to various objects, directing a slew of questions to Amari. Surprisingly, the ravenette responded calmly, indulging her curiosity with a straight face.

“Yume,” Sylas called. “I wanted to apologize for yesterday. I know I probably didn’t handle everything in the best way, but I thought it over this morning, and I should be more supportive of your line of work.”

“You don’t have to apologize Sylas.”

Because I don’t have an ounce of a clue as to what my line of work is.

“No, but it feels right. You’ve been here long before we met, and it’s not fair of me to demand you let me in on your secret—especially when a work contract binds it. It’s important to you, and the work you do with your team is also important, so I’m sorry if I seemed cold yesterday.”

Yume stood still, red eyes watching every word form on Sylas’ lips with a sense of despondency. Now that she was aware of her world being nothing more than a construct for the dead, she couldn’t decide if she wanted to indulge in these… characters.

His words may have been of earnest compassion, weighed heavily by the tone of someone willing to love and support their loved one, but this still wasn’t her Sylas.

It wasn’t the Sylas with dark brown hair that stuck out from the odd places when his hair started to grow out. It wasn’t the Sylas with slightly tired eyes that held just enough amusement towards every small poem Yume would share over a steaming cup of matcha latte.

“From the sounds of it, your team desperately needs you here, and I have my work to do back in the city, so it’s best for us to take care of our responsibilities first. Once things are settled, I hope you can come back home for a bit.”

A lick of panic bubbled in her chest at the words of an indefinite separation. This may not have been the Sylas she had grown to love over the last few years, but this was the Sylas she has at her side in this Digital Afterlife—the version of Sylas she has left.

“Wait, Sy—”

“We’re okay, Yume,” he reassured, pulling her into a hug. “I promise you, we are okay. Work is work, and if something as small as that got in the way of our marriage, we would be doomed.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, this is your line of work. I promise you, everything is fine between us. I’ll be waiting at home, so I trust you’ll take care of yourself while we’re apart.”

Trust.

Yume nodded into the crevice of his neck, bringing her arms up to lock him into the hug. Her eyes widen at the sight of her left hand where a thin platinum band wraps around her ring finger. Small diamonds catch the light, captivating Yume as she examines them. It mattered not whether she was wearing it before or how it came to be, she was getting used to the sudden appearance and disappearance of things.

“I love you, Sylas.”

She held her breath when he tightened his arms around her, wondering if she would finally be able to hear it one last time before they went their separate way. Sylas pulled away from the hug to search for her eyes, a smile tugging on his lips.

“I love you too, Yume,” he sighed, cupping his hands on her cheeks. “But we should get going. I have a flight to catch and your teammates are waiting for you.”

Her heart swelled, and she melted into his delicate touch. The feather-light kiss he held pressed to the top of her head gave her a sense of security again.

As ridiculously cheesy as this was, she needed his reassurance for more reasons than she was willing to admit out loud. Unspoken words die out on her tongue, and the flicker of curiosity is snuffed out easily by three words and the show of endearment.

Those questions she had didn’t seem to matter anymore the further she fell into the acceptance that she was in the Digital Afterlife. What more could she do? This was her life now.

“Do good work out there, Captain Nagayoshi!”

Yume snorted at his lame attempt to salute her, head shaking at her partner. “And what will you be doing, Ōtsuka?”

Sylas turned to board the jet, stopping halfway up the ramp to offer his partner a nonchalant shrug. “The usual. Maybe I’ll finally finish that EP and send it out to a label.”

Red eyes widen at his words. “Wait, as AKIOS?”

“Why not? You think I should rebrand?”

Yume was quick to shake her head at the playful suggestion. Sylas had been making good progress while he was producing music as AKIOS, but when Yume was diagnosed with TDSV, he decided to get a job proper job with medical benefits to support her.

Nicemann Corporations was hiring back-end coders at the time, and the cushy position also promised spots in the Digital Afterlife for employees and their immediate family members. This had been reason enough for Sylas to quit music for an office job instead.

“Do your best! I can’t wait to hear what you make!”

He beamed at her words of encouragement, finding his seat across from Aslin. The enthusiastic woman boiled down mid-question to turn to Yume.

“I’ll make sure he eats his veggies, Yume, so make sure you eat yours!”

Everything seemed to be just fine, despite the eye-rolling at Aslin's temperament. It wasn’t the heart-wrenching goodbye Yume expected, considering how things had left off this morning. However, Sylas was right. Everyone had different things to do and time away didn’t necessarily mean the end. 

With an affirmative nod, she stepped back as the hangar doors opened for takeoff, holding her breath as she watched the jet leave.

For a moment, she felt alone again. Empty now that two of her pillars were not within reach, but a tender smile settled on Yume’s solemn face at the thought of Sylas producing music again. It may have been one of many small changes, but knowing that her partner had the chance to do something he has always been passionate about, made the Digital Afterlife seem just a little less daunting.

A utopia for the deceased, where life continues in harmony… It didn’t sound all that bad when she got to experience that perspective for herself.

Rainbows and butterflies dissipated when she stepped out of the elevator on the main floor. A wash of tension filled the empty corridors. Angry shouts drifted into the hall from the meeting room, and the fiery aura burned brighter the closer Yume got to the opened door.

Stood on opposing ends of the holographic display table were Rosiel and Kagehisa, jaws clenched and eyes dark with resentment. Yume wasn’t sure if she should intervene, but when Rosiel’s fist clenched at the edge of the table, she knew Kagehisa was toying with her last nerve.

“You’re stupidly that adamant about risking your best friend’s life to save yourself?”

Rosewood eyes squinted at the insinuation of selfishness. “She’s fine, Matsui! Dr. B was the one who gave her the green light. Why do you keep trying to budge in with your five yen?”

“The captain has to ensure everyone on their team is in peak condition. Dr. B gave you a summary report of her session with indications that Nagayoshi may not be mentally well enough to return to her position, yet you still pushed to reinstate her. What about that is a green light to you?”

“That information was supposed to come to me directly—”

“Aside from trying to corner her in a training room, have you taken the time to talk to her? To ask her how she feels and what she wants to do?” Kagehisa raised a brow at Rosiel’s claim of silence. “Some kind of friend you are…”

Amari had mentioned the higher-ups putting a lot of pressure on Rosiel, and despite only having heard part of their debate, Yume felt that this whole debacle was a little out of her best friend’s control.

“Since when did you start speaking for her, huh?! You think you’re any better holding her back?”

“I’m not holding her back, I’m simply asserting that a recovery period would be the best course of action!”

“Fine, you want me to ask her?” Rosiel nudged her head towards Yume in the doorway, villainous eyes turned into mere slits. “Nagayoshi, do need a recovery period before being reinstated as the Captain?”

Everyone in the room turned to look at the navy-haired woman, and the feeling of déjà vu washed over her.

The pressure to respond was again bestowed upon Yume like a reoccurring trial. They must be waiting for her to make the right decision, to give them the only correct answer before they could continue.

Was this some sort of game?

While everyone held baited breaths, Yume glanced over at Kagehisa who propped himself up against the edge of the table. His eyes pleaded with her to take a step back—to tell Rosiel she needed time. Perhaps he was trying to buy both of them time to sort out the Digital Afterlife, but Yume only sighed.

She didn’t believe in an afterlife, but she did reflect on the possibility of reincarnation during two very important points of her life.

The first was when Kagehisa and her father passed away during the monorail attacks, and the second happened after she received the official diagnosis for TDSV. During both those points, Yume wished on every star she could count from her bedroom window that her father, Kagehisa and herself would have the opportunity to achieve their dreams and wishes again.

Her father had always wanted to travel, to try all the foods to exist in every corner of the world. Kagehisa loved philosophy and was beyond ecstatic to accept his offer at Oxford following their graduation.

Now Yume always wanted to write. After weeks of hating herself and cursing everything she could for the control she was losing over her own body, Yume came to accept her illness by hoping that she would at least be able to pursue her passion for writing in another lifetime.

If the Digital Afterlife allowed Sylas to pursue music, why the bolts am I the captain for some secret government team?

It didn’t feel fair to her, but maybe there was something hidden within this construct. Whatever that was, only one thing was standing between her and her quiet days of writing; Rosiel Corleone and the very team staring at her.

Yume took a deep breath, rubbing the tiredness from her eyes with the base of her hand. The pressure Rosiel was receiving from the higher-ups funnelled rather intently right back at Yume, and the stress of it has caused a rift between Rosiel and Kagehisa too. Quiet days will become nothing more than wishful thinking if she doesn’t find some way to appease the pressure.

The Digital Afterlife as Yume has come to recognize, has yet to provide her with the complete autonomy she could have sworn was promised by Nicemann Corporations. There were firm structures with expected responses. Treating this like a game, for now, seemed to be within her best interests.

Firm on her final decision, Yume stepped forward with squared shoulders and her arms tucked behind her back as if she were bracing a formal introduction. Kagehisa internally groaned at the sight, anticipating anything but the confident words to pass her lips.

“No, Corleone. I am in no need of a recovery period, but I do ask for support as I slowly readjust myself into my role as Captain. Admittedly, I may have indulged myself a little too much during my vacation, so I will need to re-familiarize myself with things regarding the Compound.”

There, that should suffice.

Kagehisa dropped his head at the pin-straight answer, unsure if he should be proud of the proper way she was able to conduct herself or worried for the looming future to come with this acceptance.

“Well, would you look at that, Matsui? Our Captain is fine.”

The blond gritted his teeth at the condescending tone, glaring daggers at Rosiel as she walked over towards their Captain. An unsettling feeling made his stomach twist at the sight of her offering a sleek, black kunai to Yume with two hands. 

Red eyes flickered over to Kagehisa who mouthed a silent don’t, but it was too late. Yume accepted the kunai respectfully with both hands as she reciprocated a bow. Rosiel turned to face the rest of the team, congratulating Yume on her return to the team with a smile that subtly reflected every shade of malevolence ever to exist.

Yume was falling further into the very mess Kagehisa had been subconsciously trying to advert, and whatever chances he considered were possible for Yume’s return from limbo were growing slimmer with each step she took as the captain.