Toaru Majutsu no Index:Biohacker Chapter6
Defeating a powerful foe was not guaranteed to save someone.
If the problem they faced and the hurdle you cleared did not match up, clearing it would not save them.
They parted the underbrush and arrived at the former location of the log cabin.
But no one was there.
Rikuri’s drone had seen her passed out there, but once they arrived, she was nowhere to be found.
Had someone taken her away? Unlikely.
Matsuo Ryuusuke’s lifeless upper body was lying nearby and they doubted there was any further villain here. Kamijou knew you were not supposed to disturb a crime scene, but when he saw a swarm of small ants gathering, he shooed them away with a stick.
Amazora used a hand to fan at the opening in her dress’s chest and spoke up with the unique cruelty of a child.
“Leave him like that. It’s what he deserves. It’s fitting for someone who toyed with life.”
“Amazora,” said the girl in a dress to cut off any further discussion.
Kumokawa Seria sighed.
“If she isn’t here, she must have either panicked and fled after seeing this or ended up rolling down the slope by accident. Except…”
They had of course tried calling her phone, but she did not answer.
And it did not seem to be a case of having no signal in the mountains.
Kamijou clicked his tongue and put his phone away.
“Then we need to go find her. We have no idea how many L.S.S. creatures are out here!!”
“You want to find a single person on this mountain with only the five of us? She might not be on the usual route up the mountain, you know?”
The girl in a dress argued against his plan.
Meanwhile, the oldest sister, Gokusai Rikuri, pointed overhead, causing her gaudy dress’s shoulder strap to strain.
“I sent out a drone, but nothing yet. Also, the map of the mountain is far from complete. If she’s hiding in a cave or something, I might overlook her while viewing things from above.”
“Then what can we do?” asked Kamijou.
“Nothing here on the mountain. But there is only so much my drones can check. They miss a lot inside the complexity of the city. You know her well enough to want to save her life, right? Then do you know where she might go?”
“Are you suggesting she left the mountain without telling us?”
“It’s a possibility. Maybe she was only focused on escaping the creatures or maybe she went into the city to get some help from the adults. Besides, she’s probably safest off the mountain now that Matsuo is gone.”
Matsuo Ryuusuke had destroyed himself.
They had somehow managed to stop the Beginning Child.
But he still had a bad feeling about this. No matter what they did, it never seemed to end. Still, he knew they had to end it somehow. This did not feel like a place a normal person could stay for long.
“Then let’s split up and search. Senpai and I will head to the city, so you three-”
“My drones are enough to search the mountain, so my cute little sisters can drive off the creatures that L.S.S. left behind.”
They really haven’t found me, thought Mitsuari Ayu while finding herself capable of an unusually detached analysis of her situation.
Or maybe she had just numbed over.
She did not really know what it was she wanted.
No, she did know.
She wanted to be a Level 5. She wanted to break free of the rules placed on her by the grownups. She wanted to believe that she could accomplish a come-from-behind victory at the last second, no matter what any of the data said.
But that would not happen.
On the verge of death, Matsuo Ryuusuke had said he had failed, that Mitsuari was the reason he had failed, and that it all would have worked if he had only gone to Shokuhou instead. His opinion was thoroughly self-righteous and sinister, but that was why it rang so true. That must have been the unvarnished truth. Some people were chosen and some were not. Mitsuari Ayu happened to be in the latter category.
Her hopes and dreams would not come true.
Her efforts would not be rewarded.
This was not her first time facing this. And she had seen others face it as well. She had somehow survived in that lab, but those other children had not been so lucky and met bloody ends.
She had thought it was over.
She had believed she had escaped that.
But failure had a firm grasp on her life and would not let go.
It whispered in her ear that she had not been blessed with talent.
It smirked and tripped her up over and over.
So what would it be next time?
Since she could walk around like this, L.S.S. President Matsuo Ryuusuke’s infectious stun weapon had to have worn off, so she was no longer under the effects of that fever-like delirium.
These thoughts were hers.
She had guided herself here out of a reluctance to face the despair.
A symbol of death lay before her eyes.
It had not been created for that purpose and she had first seen it only a bit ago.
But now she stared quietly at it.
And some words spilled from her mouth.
“I wish I could just disappear.”
They no longer had to worry about Matsuo Ryuusuke or L.S.S.
Kamijou Touma and Kumokawa Seria made their way to the paved mountain road and descended the mountain from there. But that did not immediately take them to the city below. The mountain was relatively small at only about 200m, but the twists and turns of the winding mountain road still ate up a lot of time.
Taking a direct path down, it would only be 200m, but that was as reckless an idea as saying you could travel 200m in an instant by jumping from the roof of a 200m building. That path would have been tough even with well-maintained stairs.
“There aren’t that many places Mitsuari could have gone,” said Kumokawa while walking alongside him. “She’s one of those rich girls who spends all her time in the luxury of the School Garden and Tokiwadai Middle School, so even with all of Academy City open to her, she would only think to visit a limited number of places.”
“Like the places we took her?”
“I have my doubts she knows much about Academy City aside from those places.”
It had still been morning when they attacked the L.S.S. HQ and peeked inside their server, but after being hit by the infectious stun weapon, entering the mountains to rescue Mitsuari, and descending the mountain once more, the sun was already starting to set.
He used his phone to search the news for anything about Mitsuari and Tokiwadai, but he found nothing of note. Her name might not be reported since she was a minor, but he decided she must not have been caught up in any major accident or incident.
But that meant it had not happened yet.
It could still happen now.
“God, first that honey girl and now this. Why are younger girls so much trouble? Let’s split up and search. I’ll check Tokiwadai, the School Garden, and anywhere else a boy like you can’t go.”
“Got it. I’ll check all the places we went with her!!”
Mitsuari Ayu wanted to be useful to someone.
She had said as much inside that burning parking garage.
But here she was turning her back on the others and running away. Even though they wanted the help of her power. They had not said so to her, but she knew.
If the Beginning Child was not temporarily restrained, she might spread magma and ice in every direction the instant she awoke.
Mitsuari heard a sound like an electric shaver.
She might not have head it in the noise of the big city, but even a phone’s ringtone or a car’s engine sounded horribly out of place here in the mountains. That motor was the same.
She had seen one of those three sisters using drones back in the School Garden.
So she ducked down below an overhanging rock wall that acted as a roof and slipped past along the shortest route. She could feel her own heart growing stagnant as she went to the effort.
She wanted to disappear.
She wanted to disappear and go away, but how could she do that?
She could hide, she could run away to some distant place, and she could change her name and appearance to start a new life as someone else, but this pressure would remain.
What was even the point of her life?
Was this all it was good for?
After others had paid the price for her to survive this long?
Not a single person was blaming her of anything, but she was still terrified. She kept begging people to not have any hope or expectations for her because she was terrified of disappointing them.
There was no going back now.
She did not dare power on her phone. She knew there had to be plenty of phone numbers and email addresses in its address book, but she could not bring herself to choose any of them.
She was too scared to make any kind of decision.
She was too scared she would have the answer shoved in front of her face like bisected Matsuo Ryuusuke had done earlier.
(If only…yes, if only time would come to a stop.)
That was not going to happen.
“I can make it stop.”
When searching with drones, efficiency was key.
First, you searched the entire field while taking note of any sort of blind spot: behind rocks, in caves, small cabins, and other places that the drone could not see from overhead. Then you would focus your search on those locations to find any evidence that someone had been hiding there.
Any footprints or tire tracks would act as the next hint.
It was nothing fancy. Just an efficient way of filling the gaps.
Rikuri’s large chest rose and fell with a sigh.
“This may not work.”
It was not that she had found something.
Quite the opposite.
She searched and searched and found nothing. Time passed, yet nothing at all changed. No, something did change. If the situation was still underway, then Rikuri’s side was falling further and further behind.
It was like tickets for an event with an extremely limited number of spots had gone on sale, yet she could not find the site selling them.
It felt like some kind of crucial game piece was moving further away with every passing second.
Next to her, Kaibi looked up at the sky.
It would be night soon.
No one knew what had become of the creatures released by L.S.S. They had been so dangerous during the day, but the risk might grow even further once it grew dark. If any of the creatures were nocturnal, they might behave entirely differently.
And even if the adults of Anti-Skill learned what was happening and worked to exterminate the creatures, that would introduce another risk. Anti-Skill would be fully equipped and out hunting in the mountains. Assassins with a criminal past did not want to be out in the mountains then.
“Time to withdraw?”
“I’m afraid they’ll try to get out of paying us if we do, but we can’t stay here any longer. I would rather not lose my life out of greed.”
They could imagine two different scenarios here.
First, Mitsuari Ayu had already left the mountain.
Second, Mitsuari Ayu was intentionally hiding herself on the mountain.
It was also possible she had been eaten by a creature such that not even her bones remained, but the best course of action for the sisters remained the same either way.
They would gain nothing by sticking with this any longer.
They had gotten along well with that boy.
It almost seemed a shame to cut ties with him.
(I’m not sticking around if it means putting my adorable little sisters at risk.)
They belonged to the deep darkness of this city. They were not soft enough to stick around to the end only for emotional reasons.
Everyone had something to protect.
And following through on that had led Gokusai Rikuri down the path of an assassin.
Psychology apparently came into play with suicide as well.
They said the method people used was dependent on age, gender, occupation, status, mobility, family structure, family relationships, possession of a car, wealth, number of friends, and more.
Mitsuari Ayu blankly stared at something.
For hours and hours, she let time pass her by while she simply stared at it.
Light was brightly reflected before her eyes.
It was a large body of water.
That was District 21’s reservoir and the metal tower of Ground Geo stood up from its center.
The biggest connection she had to that place was seeing it from Matsuo Ryuusuke’s car when he drove her into the mountains. But when she saw it now, she had a vague premonition telling her she would die there. That fixation may have been the result of her fear fusing with the resistance within her that was trying to tell her where her home was. Alternatively, it may have simply looked like a giant gravestone in the mountains.
Was there any particular reason she had chosen water?
Was there any difference between that and slitting her wrists or hanging herself?
She thought about it.
And thought some more.
Finally, she laughed quietly. To some, it might have looked more like she was crying.
Of course she was.
Everyone had that emotion, yet it made her feel horribly filthy.
(Yes, that’s right. Of course I’m afraid of dying.)
She was afraid of quickly moving past the point of no return by injuring herself and bleeding or by snapping her neck and dangling from the rope. So she chose a form of death that was harder to picture. After all, she would only be entering the water. That was no different from her daily routine of washing her face and bathing. So it would be fine. There was nothing to fear. If she just tried it a little, it would not break her body or leave any permanent scars. So it would be fine. Just fine. She could manage it like this.
She understood that.
And she understood she had nowhere else to go.
Yet she just stood there. She stood there until the midsummer sun had set. That may have been what she really wanted to do. Not standing – waiting. She had been waiting for hours and hours. But waiting for what? Only after her thoughts finally reached that point did her fingertips move.
She had been stiff and still for so long that bending her wrists and elbows made her feel like a doll needing an oiling.
She slowly and awkwardly pulled out her phone.
She finally powered it on again.
The email and call histories were full.
There were people worried for her.
She could contact them at the push of a button. If she heard their voices directly, she might find a reason to abandon this idea.
She could not bring herself to choose anyone, but if someone called her, she would leap at the chance. Her logic was broken and incoherent. She simply wanted to pass the decision on to someone else.
In her current state, she could not bring herself to make a decision, to break through, to brush it aside.
But if she only had to wither away.
If something would change as she drooped and dried up, then she could give up.
Give up on dying.
Normal people might not even realize that was a decision that needed to be made, but she needed something to push her in that direction.
She felt like crying.
She could only think of one person.
She had not understood anything at all when they first met.
Not what she had gotten caught up in and not whether she could trust the older boy and girl talking in front of her. She had only known she had to make herself useful. She had not known what that dragon was or anything else, but if she said she had no clue and if she overturned her empty bag of knowledge and shook it to no avail, she had been certain they would sigh, give up on her, and leave her there to die.
But when they had burst into that fiery parking garage, she had felt certain of something else. She did not have to prove herself. That boy had not come there because he was seeking something from her based on self-interest. He had simply defeated all the formidable opponents standing in their way, both the giant creature and the professional assassins. She had learned that was just who he was.
But there was more to him than fighting too. In fact, he seemed to know more than her about how to get by in that vast city.
He probably had no idea and had failed to notice, but Mitsuari had been the less sensible one.
He had taught her that it was easier to get to know people if you did not start from a point of suspicion and doubt.
So they had fought alongside each other.
She had been no help whatsoever and ultimately been captured by the villain in L.S.S.
But he had not uttered a word of complaint as he rushed into danger for her.
She had not asked him to save her.
She had been at the center of it all, but she had no idea why Matsuo Ryuusuke had wanted the original esper badly enough to abandon his own giant company.
But that did not matter.
It was irrelevant.
Even if it brought misfortune on himself, that boy would never allow that misfortune to reach anyone else. He was willing to clench his fist and rush into any disaster, apocalypse, or hell if it would accomplish that. That was just who he was.
She had run away from that.
She had left while pathetically tripping and falling.
She could not bring herself to throw out that hope.
What about him?
It was not an issue of logic or reason. Nor was it about interest or benefit.
She was a truly terrible person who had run away from everything.
Would he still reach out and grab her hand?
She had a strange look that could be seen as smiling or tearful.
A misguided application of courage.
Conviction was a powerful thing. She now knew how it felt once the pillar supporting you broke.
She spoke under her breath as if admitting defeat.
She placed her thumb on the phone’s call button.
“I’m so weak.”
Kamijou ran into someone at the intersection.
He felt no pain himself, but he had knocked the other person to the ground. Her belongings were strewn all around: a phone, stationery, makeup, and various remote controls.
“I’m really sorry, but I’m in a hurry. You aren’t hurt, are you? Bye!”
“Eh? What? Wait!!”
He quickly gathered up the scattered stationery, mobile device, and whatnot, shoved them into the honey-blonde girl’s arms, and bowed while making a quick exit. She had been wearing Tokiwadai’s summer uniform, but she was not the one he was looking for right now.
He could not find that other girl.
He could not help but feel like he was making no progress at some crucial moment.
He wanted to check to see how those three sisters and Kumokawa Seria’s searches were going, but he felt nothing in his pocket.
His phone was gone.
When he ran into that girl earlier, he had gathered up everything scattered on the ground and pushed it into her arms.
What if his own phone had been among those things?
“Wait! Wait! Dammit!!”
He ran back the way he had come, but there was no one there anymore.
He looked all around but saw no sign of that blonde girl. He had never actually given her a good look and he did not know her name, so he had no way of searching her out.
What if something horrible happened now?
What if some slight failure to communicate delayed things just barely enough?
Danger signals filled his mind, but he could not even pass on this information without his phone. He ran around until he found a payphone, but he froze after lifting up the receiver that was half buried in spider webs.
He did not know Mitsuari Ayu’s number.
He had always used the address book, so he had no idea what to dial into this phone!!
A lot was done to combat suicide.
At a train station platform or train crossing where suicides were common, they might install blue LED lights to produce a calming mental effect. They might post suicide hotline posters at payphones. They might put up tall fences and gates to make it physically difficult to reach a suicide spot. It might not sound like much, but installing security cameras all over was apparently effective too.
However, there was one important rule when enacting those preventative measures.
There could be no flaws in the installation.
What if there was a hole in the fence meant to keep out suicidal people? What if the payphone meant to call a suicide hotline was broken? When someone felt suicidal but was looking for something to stop them, seeing those flaws could send them in the complete opposite direction.
Luck is turning on me here too?
Fate must be telling me to do it now.
The pendulum would swing back in the other direction.
All because of a bit of misfortune.
Whatever the situation that had led them to that point, it could be those small things that gave them the final push. At times, they would finally make up their mind because of no more than a tiny coincidence, a miniscule miscommunication, or a wholly preventable tragedy.
The ringing stopped and hope leaped in her chest.
And then the mechanical voice of the voice mail service began to play.
She wilted, her head drooped, and she finally laughed. He had reached out his hand, so she had worked up her courage and hesitantly decided to grab it. But the instant she entrusted her weight to his grasp, he let go.
So she fell from the cliff.
She did not know why. Maybe one of them had a poor signal and maybe his battery had run out. Maybe he had just so happened to be on the phone with someone else. Maybe he had run into some other trouble and could not answer the phone at the moment.
But really, that was not why she was doing this.
She thought with oddly emotionless clarity while silently gathering rocks and filling her pockets with them to increase her weight.
That had been no more than a quick test of her luck, like someone pushed to their limit flipping a coin to decide whether or not to actually take their own life. It was no more than the weak action of someone faintly hoping god would reject their resolve so they could maybe live just one more day.
Yet she could not help but draw a conclusion from it.
She could not help but think this proved that she truly had not been blessed with any luck at all.
A heavy weight splashed into the water somewhere in the dark mountains.
This is the story of a girl who was not saved.
But it is also the beginning of another story. She would truly be saved during the summer of the following year.