Chapter 14:

Sever Your Ties; Pull the Plug (3)

Glitches in the Digital Afterlife


“You need to kill me.”

Yume shoved the knife back into Kagehisa’s grip, shaking her head profusely. “No. No! Kagehisa, what in the bolts?! Don’t say sh*t like that!”

“Yume, you need to get rid of me if you want to break this system. I’m part of your intermediate group, this won’t work if you don’t.”

“Everything you’ve said, they’re just theories! There’s no proof!”

Kagehisa hummed, fighting against the conflicted grin that threatened to betray his serious demeanour. “Hypotheses are made before research, but theories are principles supported by data.”

She scowled. “This isn’t the time for your social sciences— Wait, are you implying…”

“I’ve tested this already,” he nodded, placing the knife back in Yume’s hand. “Who was missing from the little culling group outside?”

Yume’s face falls, jaw going slack at the haunting words. Her hands wavered at the memory of his dirtied blade from earlier, what he said before he killed Fujioka… It all made sense. The ravenette was absent when the others arrived.

The kunai in her hand trembled before clattering onto the tiles between them. Fear-stricken eyes widened as she stumbled away from Kagehisa. The lieutenant remained still. A hint of remorse washed over his sharp features while golden eyes watched her through his lashes.

“W-why?”

A loud pounding sounded from the door as a furious Rosiel shouted from the other side. “Open the door, Captain! I’ll handle Matsui for you.”

Frightened by the dilemma she’s gotten herself in, the navy-haired woman remained still, leaving a gap between her and both sides. Caught between an ultimatum of death or punishment, Yume had nowhere to go.

“When I tried to identify the man you killed at the warehouse, my TCs didn’t show any data. It didn’t even register the dead body, but you knew his name.”

“I heard it. The other guy he was with called him by his name.”

Kagehisa nodded, picking up the saw-toothed weapon. “So, I killed Amari to test my hypothesis. Moments after they died, their profile was wiped from the Compound’s database. The government system couldn’t locate a single identity card for someone by their name either.”

Yume struggled to calm her pulse, wincing at the vivid image of Kagehisa killing their teammate in a secluded area of the base.

Was her body still there? Did he dispose of it?

“Kaito didn’t exist because I killed him?” she asked, to which he nodded. “What about the newer recruits? They’re not here either.”

Kagehisa propped himself against the counter, wiping at the blade’s edge with his sleeves. “They were en-route to check in on the Northern Base… I hijacked their jet from the control room and crashed it into one of the mountains.”

A knot formed in the pit of Yume’s stomach, and her knees grew weak. She slumped against the pounding door, and she brought her hands up to muffle the sounds of Rosiel, Aslin and Sylas calling for her. Yume checked her Techcons to confirm Kagehisa’s words for herself. The roster of teammates came up short with only three names.

Corleone, R. (Advisor)
Matsui, K. (First Lieutenant)
Nagayoshi, Y. (Captain)

Dr. Biasura was also missing from this list.

The only person she could rely on, someone who wasn’t out to force her back to the role created for her, was trying to force her out after massacring their team. To force her hand at being a murderer, all so she could try to leave the simulation.

“Look, I didn’t want to do it either, but I didn’t see any other choice—”

“Any other choice?! We could have continued living here without being labelled as murderers. This could have been a utopia!”

“How, Yume? You’re not happy here, I can tell.”

“I’m fine.” she insisted.

Kagehisa pinched the bridge of his nose. “You always say that, but you’re putting everyone else before you. This isn’t ideal, and for once, you should feel comfortable admitting that.”

“No, I’m fine.” Yume shook her head, marching over to Kagehisa. “I’M FINE BECAUSE YOU’RE HERE!”

Blonde eyes widen at the sudden outburst, and her hands latch onto the shoulder straps of his utility vest, drawing him close. “You’re here, Kagehisa. You’re here, and that’s why I know that I’d be fine! It’s why I decided to just accept my place here in this stupid afterlife!”

“Why?”

She scoffed, wiping a single tear on her shoulder without letting him go. “You wanted to know what changed my mind, right? I lost you out of nowhere, our plans and promises died with you that day at the station, and I never fully let go of that. Mourning isn’t easy. Moving on isn’t easy. You were my best friend from the very first day! We were inseparable, but then suddenly you just weren’t there beside me anymore.”

Everything fell silent as if they had both stopped breathing. The pounding at the door ceased, and Yume couldn’t be happier that she was finally sharing something that’s been weighing on her chest from the moment she reunited with her best friend.

“Death is sudden for most, counted for others. Of expiration dates and goodbyes, the hardest part about death will vary depending on the person because everyone experiences death differently.”

“Your reason for refusing the Digital Afterlife by Nicemann was because I wouldn’t be there?”

“It was one of the reasons…” she mumbled.

Kagehisa removed her hands from his vest, letting them drop to her sides in little balled-up fists as she fought the tears. “So you’d rather spend the rest of your conscious days with some fake version of me?”

“You’re not fake,” Yume argued.

“But I’m not the real Kagehisa either. You said it yourself. This technology was invented two years after I died. This isn’t my authentic consciousness. I’m nothing but code.”

“You’re smarter than that!”

Kagehisa chuckled. “And you are in denial.”

“Oh, flip off. I’m happy here!  I’m married to Sylas, I have Aslin and Rosie, and I have you. I'm also not sick and waiting for my stupid story to end.”

“Now you’re bargaining,” he chided. “How will you continue your duties as Captain without a team? As I said, this system will fall apart without its main actors. Sooner or later, the constructs will deteriorate.”

Skeptical, Yume wiped at the tip of her nose, an eyebrow raised at Kagehisa. “How do you know this?”

“I don’t, but I’m gonna do everything I can to at least try and get you out of here. I’m already very clearly coded differently than the others. It must mean something.”

The pounding at the door continued with more aggression this time, threatening to break the lock and rip off the hinges from the violent rattles. Aslin and Sylas continue to call out for the captain with soft threats.

Kagehisa gauged Yume’s reaction, reaching for the weapon again. Instead of forcing the sharp object into her hand, he let it remain in his possession, waiting for Yume to decide for herself what she wanted to do.

Her breathing was erratic, some breaths quieter than others, but Kagehisa remained quiet. The decision to kill the teammates he had grown to know, regardless of his awareness of the digital constructs, still felt wrong. Having asked Yume to kill her own best friends and her partner, well, that would be something entirely different.

To sway someone’s steadfast moral compass is no easy feat. He should have never expected Yume to be so easily prepared to do the same thing he did, just because she was a competent Captain. She’s his best friend, first and foremost, and he had to remember that.

“Why do I have to kill you first? You’re different—you just said it yourself!”

“Well, you just made it all the more clear. As someone who remains a physical copy of the very person who’s left a big hole in your life, I was worried I would be the hardest for you to let go for the second time. If this works, you get to see Sylas, Aiko, Aslin and Rosie again, but this is where you and I would part.”

“But what if this doesn’t work? What if I just end up ruining all of this for nothing? What if I’m dead?”

“There’s a chance that you're right, but if there truly isn’t any form of life for you to return to, then their persistent behaviour wouldn't make sense. I think the system knows something we don’t, so just trust me, one last time.”

A shaky breath rattled Yume’s body as she forced herself to make a decision. The stool beneath the handle was on the verge of falling over, and Yume knew if the angry mob outside managed to break through, she wouldn’t have the guts to fend them off.

She removed her gloves from her hand, so she could gently pull out her red contacts, discarding them in the sink as her own act of defiance. With one final longing gaze, Yume shakily accepted the saw-toothed dai-kunai.

Of all weapons in the armoury he could have chosen, Kagehisa picked the deadliest blade she was familiar with. Jagged edge like the one in her hand left a slim chance of survival if utilized in the right spots.

Her voice trembled as she spoke. “Do you have to die? Is there no other way? Why can’t you do it?”

“Because… You need to let me go. If I do this for you, you won’t have the courage to finish them off.”

Yume drew back at the words, biting down on her lip at the chilling realization that his words remained true beyond the immediate situation she was facing. One of the factors that held her back from accepting the D.A.L. when the technology was first announced, and later again when Sylas brought home his work contract, was due to her attachment to Kagehisa.

Dying and being uploaded at such a young age in comparison to the average lifespan of a regular, healthy adult meant waiting years for a familiar company. The D.A.L. didn’t allow for visitors—something Nicemann Corps. claimed was still in the works due to safety reasons for those who were not passing over.

What was she to do in an open-world simulation to occupy decades of time while she waited for her loved one and her little sister to join? She would have no one, no familiar face to see. No moments to share with the people she cared about. Had Kagehisa been a part of the Digital Afterlife, then maybe she wouldn’t have been so adamant to just die without uploading.

Perhaps it was selfish to choose an end without considering the feelings of her partner and her sister.

Is that what drove them to choose for me? Why Aiko created this?

“Pensive eyes yielding questions that can only be answered if you wake up,” Kagehisa murmured, shaking Yume from her thoughts. “Just remind yourself that we are nothing more than code, and you’ll find it less daunting. Trust your instincts after that.”

With a loud clatter, the bar stool toppled over onto the floors, alerting the pair that their time was running out. In the heat of the moment, Kagehisa pulled Yume into a hug, crushing her between his arms as he started to tear up.

“It’s not easy, I know. You were a big part of my life too, and I’m not speaking on behalf of the version of me that died outside the simulation. Rather I’m speaking for the version of me here. I’ve been coded to be your best friend, and although I wish the things I knew were real memories to me, they’re not. But to you, they are, so cherish them for us both.”

Tears started running down Yume’s face as she silently cried, one arm wrapped tightly around her best friend while the other held up the knife. The lock jiggled as someone from the other side started to pick at it, forcing Yume to clench her eyes.

Kagehisa smoothed his hand over her hair as she chanted her apologies over and over like a broken record, covering the sickening sound of the jagged blade that drove into his flesh, carved past some bones. The movements that momentarily quelled her anxiety paused at the ends of her hair, breaking the repetitive cycle.

His body went limp, weighing them both down onto the cold tiles as she removed the blade from his back. A loud sob wracked through her body as she laid him down on the tiles gently, watching as the blood started to pool around him.

He offered her a tiny grin. “You did it… See? You got t-this.”

“I’m sorry, Kagehisa. I’m sorry.”

“H-hey, the hardest part is over. Just… Break the simulation and go back.”

With a firm kick, the door slammed open, revealing her last teammate and her friends. The sudden intrusion caused them both to jump, Kagehisa wincing from the sudden movement. Aslin and Sylas grabbed Yume, pulling her away from Kagehisa while Rosiel stopped over his body.

Tsk. You’re an anomaly, Matsui. I should get rid of you once and for all.”

Yume pulled against the strength of her partner and her friend, fighting to free herself. “Stop it, Rosiel! He’s done for. Leave him alone!”

Rosewood eyes flicker over to Yume with disdain, pointing her naginata at his throat. “He’s guiding you down the wrong path, Yume. Your life would be better without him.”

“I said, LEAVE HIM!”