"Emergency broadcast to all citizens of Aesthetica. We are under siege by anti-aesthetics. Whether you have succumbed to Derangement Syndrome or not, you are needed in this fight. Please, only kill the black-clad people who are led by—"
"—My name is Mika Furuya, and we interrupt this broadcast to tell you that the founders are the only ones who need to die now. There are only four of them. Bring them to me, and I'll save you from Derangement Syndrome. Also, Ken Jitsuo must be unharmed."
The Outer District was consumed by the firefight in no time, smoke and fire rising to meet the storm clouds that rained without mercy on Aesthetica. Roy and Sable escaped with the inconsolable Gabi, whose eyes reverted to pink as she screamed Rocks' name. With some luck, they found a battered Dmitri, followed by Hai, who brought them to an underground bunker in the abandoned compound.
Once various wounds were treated, Roy and Sable made for the door. "Roy, please don't go," Gabi cried, but Hai held her back.
"I'll come back to make sure you get your blue eyes back, Gabi. I promise." He threw the door shut, and left the compound.
"Are we looking for Mika, or Ken?" Sable asked, his expression largely unchanged.
"Both," Roy replied. "There's nothing we can do to stop Mika from taking the founders, but I just want to prevent as many deaths as I can.
"You just want to be there to see what happens, huh…" he said, chuckling. Roy couldn't hear him, though, thanks to a barrage of cries in his head.
You aren't safe, Roy.
Go back to Gabi and them and wait this out.
You can still be a normal citizen.
Or kill Sable, and get your red eyes.
Roy, can you hear me?
It's been too long since you've taken aesthetics!
You can't handle it anymore!
You're going to die, at this rate!
And you can die, Roy. It's okay!
You can be with your father and I, in Heaven.
But at least kill someone first!
No, kill as many as you can!
Just don't die without killing!
…I understand you now, Navi.
I understand… All of you want humanity to die, so that you'll be free…
So that you won't have to assist us anymore. My head isn't Heaven, after all.
It's right there in The Truth… If we all become navis, we'll all be free.
So… Do you really understand? Will you save your mother, then?
"Shit… It's Mika!"
The man wearing a black vest that matched his spiked hair stood atop the open military truck that skidded to a stop in front of them. Sable threw his hands up immediately, and the woman with long black hair who drove the truck pointed her rifle at Roy.
"It's okay, Miyuki," Mika said with a wry grin. "It looks like they just want to talk."
"You're right," Roy said, his umbrella nowhere to be found as the rain soaked through his clothes. "I need your help with something."
Mika burst out laughing, his wet hair flopping side to side. "Why would I help you with anything?"
"Because I think I know where I can find Ken," Roy said. "And I don't care what you do with the founders. I just want the fighting to stop."
"Okay, and what do you want from me?" he asked, smirking.
"I have this buzzing in my head. I'd like you to take it out."
WHAT? ROY, PLEASE, DON'T!
Mika's smirk faded, before reforming into something maniacal. "Sure!" he cried, hopping into the standing water and brandishing a jagged knife. "I hope your aesthetics are good, because this is going to hurt."
ROY, YOU CAN'T!
You can go to Heaven, now, Navi.
I DON'T WANT TO! I WANT TO STAY WITH YOU!
I have to face Ken alone. Just myself.
ROY, PLEASE, LET ME TAKE CARE OF YOU!
You've done that for a long time. Thank you, Navi. No… Thank you, Mom.
Before he could prepare himself, his head was held down, and his left eye became a complete blur. At first, there was no pain, only the sweet relief of silence in his head. When it finally hit him, his skin crawled from the inside out, and he writhed in pain, dragging his nails over the road to feel anything other than the void in his eye.
"Don't pass out on me," Mika cried, holding the knife to his arm and slowly drawing blood. The piercing pain was a relief, and allowed him to lift his mouth out of the standing water and breath. "Tell me, where do you think I can find Ken?"
"The old shopping plaza… First building on the left. Sable will know where…"
Finally, he blacked out, and when he awoke, his eye was bandaged so tight the pressure nearly outdid the throbbing pain. He sat next to Sable in the backseat of the truck as Miyuki whipped around every corner faster than the last.
"There!" Sable cried, and Miyuki skidded to a stop in the middle of the plaza. Roy was the first one out, followed by Mika, who passed him on the way up the stairs and out the door to the roof.
"Ken!" Mika cried, throwing his hands in the air. He stood with no expression on his youthful face, the rain outlining his black hoodie as he gestured to the bespectacled man standing next to him.
"You brought Father Gregory, too. He's the last founder alive. Thanks Ken! I knew you and Rocks would come through for us, even after that little betrayal at the tower."
"I didn't want you here, Mika," Ken said, looking past him and smiling weakly at Roy. "Rocks probably brought you here to be the scapegoat for what I did to Aesthetica. But I don't want that… And neither do you, right, Roy?"
"Rocks started a war, and died to try and save you…" Roy said, at which Ken's expression sank. "I don't know how I can make good on his wishes, though. You know you can't be forgiven."
"I know," he replied, running his hand through his soaked hair.
"What are you talking about?" Mika cried. "We won, Ken! I don't care what you wanted. Look, once I kill him, we take over. We can dismantle the navi system, like we've always wanted!"
"You can't," Ken said, glancing at Gregory. "Right, Father?"
"That's right," Gregory said with a smile. "You can't undo the coding that turns a human's dead cyberbrain to a navi. The only way to truly end the navi system is to end humanity, and let us all go to Heaven together."
"That's bullshit," Mika cried, pointing his pistol at the man, whose smile grew wider.
"If you don't care for my explanation, would you like to take it from the author of The Truth himself?"
The man's red eyes glazed over, a light pink avatar projecting from them.
"Hello, Mika. And Roy, I've met you once before. My name is Peter Jordanson."
"What…?" Roy cried, taking a step closer.
"When I wrote The Truth, I was already a navi. Father Gregory's navi, to be specific. Aesthetic Suggestion was what we first called the phenomenon known now as The Truth. Everybody in the world with a cyberbrain was given at least a single dose of aesthetics. This made them vulnerable to Aesthetic Suggestion, which simply put, are the words spoken by a navi meant to influence one's mind. The Truth was the perfected usage of Aesthetic Suggestion, but its occurrence is as common as any navi's simple suggestion."
"That's why my navi wanted me to take aesthetics so badly…" Roy muttered, placing his hand over his eye.
"The navi, too, were vulnerable to The Truth, since it came from the very first navi. Our company used this, and the navi pushed society to collapse, all with the ultimate goal of creating Aesthetica. The world's population had to be significantly decreased in order to effectively control a single community, after all."
"That's disgusting… You destroyed the world, for an experiment? For power?"
"For humanity," Jordanson said. "The Truth may be a product of Aesthetic Suggestion, but that doesn't make it wrong. We believe it wholeheartedly. The only salvation from the world's brokenness is to bring humanity to Heaven, together with the navi."
"That's why the rest of The Truth…"
"Is that you can only truly find freedom by ending your own life," the avatar replied. "And becoming a navi."
"It was you that told Ellie that, wasn't it?" Roy asked, taking another step closer. "Why were you giving us ideas that could lead to the founders being overthrown?"
"Because the founders became greedy," it replied. "They placed power over The Truth that I wrote. I wanted this meeting to happen, so that I could observe the next step in humanity's evolution. Rather, its next step toward salvation."
"How about I find you in cyberspace and kill you instead?" Mika cried, straightening his aim on Gregory, who simply smiled.
"I like you," Jordanson replied. "I will be your navi, next."
"Like hell, you will!"
Several gunshots resounded, muffled by the rain. Gregory fell with a thud, and Miyuki fired at the red-eyed woman in gray fatigues who appeared on the rooftop from a different exit, firing a shot that grazed Mika's hair. Sable fired at Emery as she shot wildly, and Akos appeared behind her, firing at Ken, whose only escape route was toward the ledge just behind him.
Mika suddenly fell unconscious, without being hit by a bullet. The avatar projected from his black eyes was the same as the one that had just come from Gregory. "Good, continue creating more navi. The cycle will go on until all are free."
Roy dashed across the rooftop, toward the ledge where Ken stepped over the shattered bottle of Suntory that was never cleaned up. The gunshots didn't matter, only the boy stepping onto the shattered glass and falling backward over the ledge.
Roy's left knee lay in the shards of glass. His right hand over the ledge was the only thing keeping Ken from falling.
"Why did you come here, Ken?"
"I thought there was one more thing I could do…"
"What…? You've done too much, already Ken. Nothing you do will help, now."
"I know," he said, smiling. "Don't worry, it won't actually be me." His eyes lit up, and an avatar projected from his eyes, directly in front of Roy's single eye. At the same time, Roy's eye became fixed on the avatar, unable to blink, as if it was a puppet on strings.
"Hi, Roy. It's me, Ellie."
"Ellie? No, there's no way…"
"I'd love to catch up, but the whole world is watching us right now."
"Through my eye…?" he said, gripping Ken's hand as the pain in his left eye socket made his consciousness waver.
"We were using Ken's before. They needed to hear Dr. Jordanson's real beliefs."
"Why? What good does it do to tell them there's more to The Truth now? If they're already Deranged…"
"But now that they know what the trick is, all it should take is a little Aesthetic Suggestion to override The Truth."
"You're going to rewrite… The Truth?"
"But you should want everyone to die… Even Ken. All navi want to be in Heaven with the rest of us, right? Even my own mother couldn't break through that boundary…"
"Remember how Ken hacked my brain?" she said, her voice nearly rising to a giggle. "Between that and the firewall going down, I guess I have a little more freedom than other navi. But anyway…"
Ken smiled and nodded, while Roy squeezed his hand. However, because of the glass, he didn't have a good enough grip to pull up without falling off himself. Not only that, but the strength was quickly fading from his entire body as his torso began to slide up the ledge.
"The Truth is that, despite the brokenness that will make a weak mind succumb, like mine did, there is still a horizon even the navi do not know of. We found Heaven because of the navi system, but there must be more beyond it, something that only living humans can find through their continued evolution. Through their perseverance, strength, and even through their weaknesses, they can find that new horizon. As long as they keep on living together."
Roy's eye relaxed, and he almost passed out before Ken squeezed his hand.
"Was that it?"
"I'm no psychologist, so I hope my words from the heart are enough. Thanks for holding on, Roy."
"I can still hold… I just need someone to come…"
"It's okay, Roy," Ken said, the rain slowing to a trickle on his cheeks. "You have to live."
"Wait… Mika… Akos… Sable…" His voice grew smaller with each word, barely reaching Ken, who chuckled.
"I could never live if it meant owing Sable my life," he said, grinning as wide as ever. "I'm sorry for everything, Roy. And I forgive you, and your parents for what happened. You shouldn't feel guilty about anything."
"I don't blame you, either, Ken…" Roy muttered, doing everything in his power to keep his eye open. But no matter how long he waited, nobody was coming. and his torso was sliding closer to the edge.
"I told you you could make it without aesthetics. You even waited for my baptism like you said you would… I'm impressed."
"You were right. You were right about so much. It was me that needed to grow up, not you…"
"Hey Roy… Did you have fun?"
A single tear left Roy's eye as their long handshake finally broke. He watched as long as he could keep his eye open, and for as long as he did, Ken never stopped grinning.