Chapter 15:

Sever Your Ties; Pull the Plug (End)

Glitches in the Digital Afterlife


Yume ripped her arms free, lunging towards Rosiel with her blade pointed towards her torso. The pink-haired woman easily deflected the attempt with the other end of her staff.

“Why are you fighting me, Yume? We’re on the same team.”

“There is no team, Rosiel. There’s no going back to the way things were.”

“We can still go back and build a better team.”

“No, I’m going to wake up, and I’m getting my f*cking answers.”

It was completely disadvantageous for Yume to start a fight in the bathroom, but the small space gave her the upper hand against a long weapon like Rosiel’s. There were no flashy moves, no spins. Just direct jabs that Yume could duck and dodge from.

Rosiel’s miscalculated swing allowed Yume to slip under the staff, landing a solid kick against her advisor’s back. The split second of vulnerability allowed Yume to drag her blade across the front of her neck, ripping through her throat.

“I’m sorry, Rosie.”

Yume watched as Rosie struggled to breathe, falling to the floor in pain as she started to tear up. Her futile attempt to stop the gush of blood stirred the urge to help, but Yume shook her head.

No, finish this. This isn’t real, Yume.

Finding it odd that no one else was attacking, Yume looked up to find Sylas and Aslin standing idle by the door. They started to speak in unison, spewing different lines in an attempt to convince her, but Yume paid them no mind.

“They’re not real. This isn’t real. I’m in a simulation; this is all code.”

The ground started to shake, breaking the trio from their mindless incantations. Yume reached for the stalls to steady herself.

“It’s working, Yume,” Kagehisa croaked from the floor, moving his head just in the slightest to address her. “Two more.”

The shaking continued, motivating Yume to take advantage of the instability to end this once and for all. Aslin stumbled into the doorway, leaving a perfect angle for Yume to fire her grapple at the wall outside. She kept her eyes closed, hoping her aim would be off so she could buy herself some time, but her body wouldn’t allow for it. The recoil sent Yume flying into Aslin’s back, driving the blade perfectly into her friend as they collided into the wall.

This isn’t real. This isn’t real.

She pulled the blade out with a disgusting crunch, and Yume had to take a deep breath to stop herself from gagging. “I’m sorry, Aslin…”

Her grapple retracts into her rig just as the shaking stops. Yume stands up straight, refusing to turn around to face her last opponent. She can hear him breathing, waiting for her to make the first move.

“Why are you not attacking me?” she asked.

“You’re my wife. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Yume turned to look over her shoulder. “You just witnessed me killing your friend and my boss. You know you’re next, so do something.”

“You are my wife. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Angered by his suddenly calm demeanour, Yume tackled her partner to the ground. “I SAID DO SOMETHING! DON’T MAKE THIS EASY FOR ME!”

Now that they were face to face, Yume finally noticed his vacant eyes, glossing over as if he was already dead. “You are my wife. I want you to come home.”

He repeated his line repeatedly until Yume broke into another sob. “You’re not real, Sylas. You’re not my Sylas.”

“I’m your partner, and I’ve promised to love you.”

“Stop, just stop!”

“I—”

His words fell short of his manipulative script, mouth stuttering but free of sound. Yume froze from her spot above him, watching with horror at the placement of her dai-kunai. Sylas also looked down, painfully gulping at the infliction.

She knew she shouldn’t pull a sharp object from its wound, but Yume slowly removed the blade from his chest while biting back her whimper. The blood poured out from the gaping slit in rhythmic waves, mirroring his weakened heartbeat.

As she looked around the bathroom and into the hallway where Aslin’s body remained, Yume started to count the seconds.

Why haven’t I woken up?

She had hoped that the waking-up part would be instantaneous so she wouldn’t have to face the destruction laying in her wake, but as the minute passed, Yume remained firmly planted in the simulation that Kagehisa said would break.

Her attention returned to Sylas, who coughed from the searing pain. Yume snapped from her confusion, applying firm pressure over his open wound to limit the bleeding. A wave of nausea rushed over her at the feeling of his weakening pulse and the blood.

“S-Sy? Sylas?”

No response.

Panic settled in.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

She looked down to find his eyes closed, pulse coming to a slow stop as his breathing ceased. Yume stumbled away from his body, eyes frantically searching for some sign of life between Aslin and Rosiel, but it was too late.

Surrounded by the dead bodies of those she considered close to her, Yume felt remorse.

“Rosie?”

“They’re dead, Yume…”

Yume rushed over to her best friend’s side. “Kagehisa?!”

The navy-haired woman attempted to scoop her friend into her arms, but he held out a weak hand, stopping her before she could stir his pain. “Don’t. If you let yourself grow attached again, it’ll be harder for the system to shut down.”

“The system’s not shutting down.”

“It’s slow… but it’s shutting down. I-I can feel it.”

“What do you mean you can feel it?”

“I’m part of this simulation, aren’t I?” he wheezed.

“I don’t… I don’t know what’s gonna happen when you wake up. This is as far as my understanding will go—”

“What, no more hypotheses and theories?” Yume half-heartedly joked, trying to keep her best friend talking even only for a while longer.

He nodded meekly. “You might get some immense trauma from all of t-this.”

A sorrowful chuckle filled the quiet space as Yume nodded, wiping her tears with her sleeve. “Y-yeah, I probably will, but it’s fine. I have therapists and counsellors for my ”

Kagehisa moved his lips, trying to formulate a sentence, but he stopped halfway, inhaling sharply through his teeth instead. Yume watched him with worried eyes, unsure of what to do when he didn’t want her to save him—when she couldn’t.

He beckoned her with a light wave of his hand, and she obliged. Carefully bending down, she wrapped her arms around his head, cradling him close as he whispered into her ear. The ghost of his final breath tickled the shell of her ear, forcing her to squeeze her eyes shut.

She nodded to his solemn words, marking a promise to his words as the earthquake started to rock the building again.

It was harsher than the last as the deadly magnitude tore through the building. The intensity riled the mirrors until they cracked, shattering along with the buzzing lights overhead.

A yelp was stifled by clashing doors, and Yume tightened her grasp on Kagehisa, shielding them from glass and falling debris. She was too afraid to look around, unable to confront the destruction caused by her.

"Wake up, please. I want to wake up."

Outside of the club, the population stood still. Not a hint of curiosity or worry. No traces of fear were evident in their eyes as they watched one another glitch from head to toe until they faded away.

Neo Tokyo started to crumble like dry sand. Particles and remnants turned into pixel-like pieces as they dissipated into the air with a shimmer. The monumental Skytree tipped over, but it never made an impact with the ground, no.

It was silent.

Everything vanished one by one without a sound as if Yume remained the only one aware of the clamour happening within the nightclub’s bathroom. She could sense the growing temperature like a fire had started and threatened to swallow her. While the rumbling continued, her headache grew tenfold, and the scent of rusted metal filled her nose. A trickle of blood left her nose.

She felt helpless. Rendered useless from the excruciating pain in her head, she squeezed her arms, whimpering under the thick pressure beating at her skull.

“P-please stop. I want to wake up. I want to wake up, please.”

Her plea remained unheard, and a sharp ringing pierced her ears. Yume remained frozen in the state of agonizing pain, trapped in a voiceless scream. She started to curl further into herself, unaware that the club and everything in it was gone.

As the last of the construct faded out of existence, the shaking and ringing broke off. All that remained was Yume’s curled-up form.

Heavy breaths echoed in the vast, empty space, allowing her a moment of peace as she struggled to ease the pain from her body and the pressure in her ears. Blue eyes slowly fluttered open, aware that she was alive. Her hands remained bloodied, but her body now fitted in a simple dress, matched the bright white environment she was in.

“K-Kagehisa? Sylas? As…lin?”

No reply.

No bodies.

No club.

Neo Tokyo ceased to exist. Everything she had grown to know was gone.

Alone in what felt like an endless white room, Yume pulled herself to stand.

“Sylas? Kagehisa! Aslin!”

Nothing.

“No, no, no. Please… Where am I? Hello? Please, someone, let me out. I just want to wake up.”

“I think Aiko might have created her own version of the D.A.L. just for you.”

Aiko?

“Aiko! Can you hear me?! AIKO! If you can hear me, please let me out!”

At the thought of a smaller girl who resembled herself manifesting at the name, little flickers of Yume’s imagery formed before her like a holographic display. Snippets of memories she thought she had forgotten played out in no particular order. The sequence jumped through time, and Yume brought her hands up to her tear-stained face at the sight of familiar faces.

She saw flashes of Kagehisa falling face first into the sandpit during recess, followed by a cacophony of laughter. Next was her parents taking a photo of her at some festival, and then a little bundled baby pulled into the next frame. A baby with bright, curious blue eyes as it held onto Yume’s slim fingers.

“Yume, meet Aiko, your little sister.”

“She’s so tiny, and she won’t stop drooling…”

“She’ll stop one day, and from that moment on, you’ll need to take care of each other.”

“… I gotta take care of her when she stops drooling? Hm… Okay.”

The cycle continued like a never-ending movie with incomplete sequences. She caught a glimpse of the first day she met Rosiel and the last day they saw each other before she moved away. Memories of the shy first encounter with Sylas, who looked equally as awkward and unsure of the situation.

“Ōtsuka Sylas, but you could call me Sy—or um, Sylas.”

“Uh… Nagayoshi Yume, but Yume works.”

“Cool, nice to meet you.”

“Likewise… Where are you from?”

From flashes of the weird adventures with Aslin, the last sleepover with Kagehisa and his funeral, Aiko graduating, and dinner with Sylas at a Thai restaurant, Yume was struck with the realization that this must be the end for her.

The last memory she must have had was one where she stood outside of Aiko’s room while the young woman studiously worked at her computer. A fresh box of Pad Thai and coconut pudding sat on the edge of her desk. She had bid her goodnight, warning her to get some proper sleep before the crack of dawn, and then the reel stopped.

Was this the end?

Her whole life played out before her eyes, and now the white space was empty again. There was no replay button, no door for her to leave and no guardian angel waiting to guide her.

She was alone, or so she thought.

Something shifted from her peripherals, and she turned to see a big shadow approaching her. It felt ominous, swallowing the far end of the white space until it turned pitch black. A lick of cold sweat beaded on her neck as the fear settled in.

This has to be the end.

Yume fled from her spot, running as fast as her tired legs could carry her in no visible direction, but the black hole continued to speed after her. She continued with her futile attempt to shake the thing from her tail, running and running until she ran out of breath first.

The large mass copied her movements when she stopped, leaving a certain distance as if it was afraid of coming closer. Perhaps it was trying to convey a message.

Soft words from Kagehisa’s final moments brushed her ear once more, sending a shiver down her spine. Surprisingly, it eased the woman from her threatening stance. 

She watched as the blackness shrunk down in size and inched forward. Yume took a step back, cautiously eyeing the suspicious blob. It tried again, moving closer and closer until it met her toes, forming into a shadow.

The shadow resembled a person, but it was too broad and tall to be Yume’s. If she squinted, she could make out the soft curls at the head of the shadow before it morphed into a simple blob again. Curious, Yume bent down to examine it, finger reaching out with caution to touch the shadow in the ground.

As soon as her skin made contact with it, the thing swallowed Yume whole, submerging her in a completely different environment. One that was pure obsidian, leaving much to the imagination. It was so dark that she couldn’t see her own body. Yume felt vulnerable, unable to utilize her senses.

Where was she now?

Is this… what death without the Digital Afterlife is like? Is death just an empty void?





Hello, am I still alive?