Three Months Earlier

The island used to be some kind of a research station. It was home to three buildings that were now crumbling apart. None of them had a roof anymore, and the broken walls offered little shelter from the mildly chilly air.

When the Future Foundation arrived, they found the individuals who had radioed for help on the bottom floor of the central three-story structure. And that bottom floor, at the least, was largely intact.

The "victims" had been in disguise when the Foundation arrived, and those who spoke to the Foundation team did an excellent job of playing the part of the stranded innocents who were elated to be rescued. Even as the team from the Fourteenth Branch checked their health, however, Makoto noticed some odd things about them. The short man with the eyepatch and freckles left an impression. The muscular man who towered above them all was certainly noteworthy, too. There was a blonde European woman among them as well. Plus a young man with white hair who was wearing elbow-length gloves over both a functional arm and an arm that seemed to be hanging limp by his side whenever he moved and gestured around.

And yet, when he observed each person separately, Makoto couldn't figure out what bothered him about the lot. Something was nagging at the edge of his mind but he couldn't put his finger on what it was.

One of the larger members of the castaways — an overweight man with dark hair and an imposing presence — came up to Makoto and put a large hand on his shoulder. In an authoritative voice, he said, "Thank you for coming to our aid, Ultimate Hope."

Makoto laughed reflexively at the title. "You really don't need to call me that," he said. "Trust me: I can't live up to the hype."

The man did not respond to Makoto's remark. Instead, he leaned closer, his eyes seeming to pierce right through Makoto. Conspiratorially, he whispered, "You should know: There is another of us."

Makoto's eyebrows went up. "Excuse me?" he replied.

"Upstairs," the man said. "The top floor. He would very much like to meet you. But privately, please. He's a bit shy, and I promise that you'll both be disappointed if he decides to run off before you can speak with him." Makoto nodded and opened his mouth to reply, but before he could do so, the larger man stepped away swiftly, looking Makoto in the eyes intently as he did so.

After a few moments of uncomfortable staring, the man finally walked away and turned his attention to the other Future Foundation arrivals, leaving the so-called "Ultimate Hope" in a state of intrigued confusion.

Climbing three flights of stairs wasn't something Makoto was anticipating in the lead-up to their arrival at the island. His speed had slowed significantly by the time he was headed up the final flight. Gotta work on my endurance, he thought as he heaved his legs up and made it to the top at last.

Upon arriving at the top, he stopped to rub his hands together for warmth. As he did this, he caught a glimpse of a man through a open patch in the broken concrete wall running parallel to the steps. The rooms here appeared blasted open; it was as though the building had been bombed, leaving only the floor and some ragged chunks of concrete to make up the walls. The rest was open to the air — no ceiling and no proper roof existed. The glimpse of the figure he got through the wall was obscured from the chest-up, but he seemed to be a well-dressed man with something dark waving in the wind behind him.

As Makoto stepped forward and rounded the wall, he finally saw the last remaining "castaway" in full. Even with the light of the setting sun framing him in a way that obscured many of his features, there was no mistaking the lengthy dark hair that hung from his head and blew in the wind behind him. In a second, Makoto's blood ran cold. As soon as he saw that full-body-length hair, he knew. That hair, combined with the color of his eyes, and, of course, the collection of traits that seemed so oddly familiar in the group downstairs — they all added up to equal the truth of what these people were. He'd read about these people. He'd seen them in photos.

These were the Remnants of Despair.

His breath caught in his throat. Oh god, he thought. Everyone on the ship is going to die here. All because I screwed up and fell for an obvious trap. He struggled to swallow. Oh... god. It's all my fault. I never got to tell Kiri-


At last, he swallowed hard and wiped the sweat from his brow, attempting to regain his composure. Cut the mental flagellation and focus on some kind of upside to this. There's always an upside, he reminded himself. His eyes darted around nervously as he tried to focus. If this was just a trap, they wouldn't have bothered with the disguises. They'd have already attacked. That means they want something, he decided. And if they want something from us, then I can use whatever our usefulness is to protect us... somehow.

Maybe they want to hijack the ship? he considered before quickly shaking his head. Nah, they would've already taken it by now. Maybe they're after access to the Foundation computers? We can cut that link if we have to... which will also remove access to our previous port coordinates, so HQ will stay safe...

We've got to play this out more, he accepted. Treat them kindly, maybe even offer to house them somewhere. Somewhere that we can lock them in. The brig isn't that big, maybe the hold? I don't-

He saw the man's feet slide across the the concrete, shifting uneasily. It didn't feel like idle movement, though... it felt calculated somehow. Deliberate.

Does he... know I'm here? Makoto wondered. His heart pounded in his chest. He had a radio attached to his waist — Should I call downstairs and warn the others?

Closing his eyes, he took another deep breath. If he wanted it, he could probably kill me before I got a word out. Even if I only texted, I might be breaking the request for this to be "private." He held his breath a while as he formed a decision. I guess... there's no sense keeping him waiting.

As he stepped down the hall and through the doorway to what was left of the room, the other man turned his head to regard the new arrival. If there had been any doubt until that moment, the intensity of his red eyes confirmed what Makoto already knew: This was Izuru Kamukura.

"Makoto Naegi," Izuru observed. "Do you know who I am?"

Makoto set his jaw. " yeah," he admitted.

Izuru pivoted on one foot, spinning around to face the other man in full. "You are afraid," he said with certainty.

"It'd be stupid not to be," Makoto responded quickly, tossing off an awkward, shaky shrug. He took a step forward. "But um... that question you just asked. Can you answer it?"

Izuru's eyelids fell a little, which had the effect of making him appear tired. Glumly, he answered, "I already said your name."

"That's not what I'm asking," Makoto retorted with a quick shake of his head. "I want to know if you know who you are."

"A transparent attempt to appeal to this body's former identity," Izuru said in a monotone. "Boring."

Makoto folded his hands in front of him, trying his best to act casual. He two a couple more steps. "Your body doesn't harbor any memory of being Hajime Hinata, then?"

"That boy is gone," Izuru said.

One side of Makoto's mouth curled up a little. "Not exactly what I asked, but okay," he muttered.

A tiny frown appeared on Izuru's face. He appeared irritated, but he said nothing.

Makoto's smirk faded as they stood there for a while with Izuru Kamukura staring at him. His expression was devoid of emotion. Nervously, Makoto began to glance around what was left of the "room" for some kind of weapon or death trap, all the while frantically thinking, Crap crap crap crap! I pissed him off! Don't make eye contact don't make eye contact don't make eye contact-

"I arranged for you to come here," Izuru said after half a minute. "It was I who convinced the supposed 'Remnants of Despair' to surrender themselves to your Foundation."

Makoto stopped holding his breath and looked back at Izuru. "You arranged... ?" he mumbled. There's no way this is the same guy from the radio, he thought. Maybe he means that he ordered one of the Remnants to make the call? No, wait — if Kamukura truly has every talent imaginable, he might able to alter his voice and personality... ?

"Yes," Izuru said back. "I now wish to join them in your custody."

Makoto scoffed before he could stop himself. He struggled to keep his expression calm when he started to answer. "That's... unexpected."

"You do not believe me," Izuru said, unmoving. It was only now that Makoto realized how unnaturally still his new companion was. "Yet my desire to surrender is consistent with my sole motivation since I emerged into this world."

The shorter man frowned. "Oh yeah?" Makoto asked. "And what's that, exactly?"

Izuru exhaled slowly. "Disappointing," he murmured. "I thought the Foundation would understand by now." The red of his eyes glinted slightly as the frown on his face disappeared. "However," he continued, "Your lack of knowledge has surprised me... "

Makoto wrinkled up his nose in irritation. "Here's what I 'understand': You show up wherever the other Remnants of Despair are. You stood by idly while Junko Enoshima had the Student Council of Hope's Peak rip itself apart. And from those two things, I understand you seem awfully comfortable watching others get murdered." At the end of his brief speech, Makoto inhaled through his teeth. Keep your cool, he warned himself. Be like Kirigiri-san.

"The so-called 'Remnants of Despair' are but mild curiosities to me," Izuru retorted dispassionately. "I admit their fascination with me has proven beneficial. However, we have no real connection. Until I arrived on this island, I had never spoken to any of them face-to-face, let alone participated in their activities."

"Oh?" Makoto said in mock surprise. His brow furrowed. "So mass murder is more like a spectator sport for you, then? Let me guess: You watch the Remnants' activities because watching people get slaughtered is how you get your daily recommended dose of despair? Is that it?"

Izuru's frown returned, now deeper than before. "I have never pursued despair," he said.

"That's such a load of-"

"Nor am I claiming to have pursued hope," Izuru continued, interrupting him.

Makoto's face fell. "Fine, then what do you mean?" he said.

"I merely seek a reprieve from my boredom," Izuru told him.

"Boredom... ?" Makoto repeated in a whisper. His expression twisted into a baffled smile of utter disbelief. "You... you watched people die... watched them stab each other, get gunned down and be tortured... for some entertainment?!" he spat.

Izuru lifted one hand limply and turned his head a few degrees in order to gaze upon it, yet his eyes looked unfocused — as though he could stare right through his own palm. "For someone who is loved by talent, this world is utterly predictable," he explained. "I see patterns in all behavior. Minor variances from my predictions serve as insignificant breaks — tiny ripples in the water." He paused for a few seconds but did not shift his pose. Only his hair blew in the wind. "When I look back over human history, I can see true sociological evolution in our world. However, that evolution has now stopped. Society stands metaphorically frozen."

"But... you can't just... " Makoto began, then he sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose. Closing his eyes, he said, "You can't seriously demand to see society leap forward in front of your eyes in your own lifetime, right?" Lowering his hand again, he looked into Izuru's eyes. "Major progress can take decades, or even centuries! Like... biological evolution wouldn't be visible to someone who just watched some animal for a couple generations, you know?"

Izuru cocked his head ever so slightly and lowered his hand to his side at last. "Consider the past 100 years. Flight. Computers. Quantum physics. More progress was made at a faster rate than ever before — all of it thanks to those blessed by talent. Humanity became globally interconnected thanks to the talented. And then, those without talent used the new methods of communication open to them to organize against their betters." As he spoke, he began to step forward. Makoto stood his ground, but his newly emergent frown deepened as he continued to listen. "In this new era," Izuru went on, "Those insignificant beings celebrate normalcy and ignorance. Being able to relate to the 'common' is held up as an ideal so that their true superiors — those with talent — can be dragged down from positions of leadership and power. The willfully ignorant increasingly control the world."

Makoto swallowed hard, only barely able to resist his urge to back up — or better yet, flee to the other end of the floor.

The taller man stopped walking half a meter away from Makoto. "That is how this world has come to its standstill. The signs were there for the past two centuries," he said. "This end state was thoroughly predictable. As such, though it may be an inversion from the standard of sociological evolution, it remains... boring."

Faced with someone who seemed to tower over him now standing so close Makoto opted to look down to the ground. "And that's how you justify the apocalypse you helped create?" he responded bitterly.

"No," Izuru said softly. "I had no hand in creating the world's current state. I was only curious to see if this despair would shake humanity out of its stupor. For a brief time, I was genuinely uncertain of the outcome." He turned his head and looked away, gazing out to the horizon visible through the shattered walls of their surroundings. "Unfortunately, I have seen no real progress in the world, nor has this 'disaster' caused an expedited regression in society. Individual human reactions to this level of trauma may be occasionally unpredictable, but the majority fall into foreseeable patterns."

Izuru turned back to Makoto, finally focusing his eyes in full on the smaller man. "Do you understand now, Makoto Naegi?" he said, still sounding detached. "Watching despair ensconce this world has proven boring to me. Taking no side guarantees that nothing will change, as only those blessed by talent can force the balance to shift. My only remaining option is to finally explore despair's opposite. In order to do so, I will leverage the Remnants of Despair. I could even trick them into serving the greater good."

Makoto looked up and locked his eyes right back onto Izuru's. "I suppose you already know that I don't agree with your conclusions," Makoto said.

"Of course," Izuru concurred. "But that is irrelevant to my request."

"I... I guess you're right," Makoto admitted. "But how can I know if you mean anything that you're saying? Why would I ever trust you?"

"What purpose would it serve me to lie?" Izuru answered. "If I simply wished to be put onto your ship, there are endless ways I could have achieved that goal. I could feign defeat in combat. I could certainly have hacked into your ship's computers to obtain any information I'd need. Taking over your ship against your will would also require minimal effort on my part. If I wanted to achieve my goals peacefully, I could contact you in disguise. I might pretend to be a nameless soldier who once battled alongside the Remnants, or I might be a skilled workman possessing a talent that the Future Foundation is interested in. All of these would meet with success, but none would give me what I truly need."

When he stopped talking, Makoto looked up at the taller man. The darkness of the his hair and body literally blocked out Makoto's view of the sun. "You're pausing so that I'll ask you to tell me what you 'truly need,' right?" Makoto said. "Just say it."

Izuru's mouth opened a fraction and hung there for a few seconds before he said, "I need to know if hope can offer me the unpredictability that despair failed to provide. My best chance to be shown that hope is through you, Makoto Naegi."

"Thanks... ?" Makoto said half-heartedly. "But if that's an attempt at flattery... please don't bother."

"I say this only because I know you are the most likely party within your organization to possess both the authority and willingness to grant me the specifics of my request." Izuru told him. He barely paused before he said, "The current parties at the head of the Future Foundation intend to execute both me and the 'Remnants of Despair.'"

Makoto's expression grew sullen. This wasn't a question. Somehow, Kamukura knew this for certain. Therefore, Makoto didn't bother denying it. "I don't have the authority to change that."

The other man blinked once, deliberately. "You have significant influence," Izuru stated. "Failing that, you have the authority to determine whether myself and the Remnants of Despair are delivered to our intended executions."

As the realization of what Izuru Kamukura was insinuating dawned on him, Makoto chuckled in disbelief. He shook his head and looked away. "You're betting on me defying Foundation leadership for you... ?" he muttered. "You must really be crazy... "

"You could place me into a holding facility where I could leverage my many talents to your benefit," Izuru suggested, unphased. "But I believe I know the best use of my skills as well as the ideal test of hope's capabilities — the Hope Restoration Program."

Makoto inhaled sharply. "Guess there's no point in asking how you know about that," he said, speaking only partly under his breath. His connection to Enoshima might mean he had a connection to Matsuda, he thought. Or maybe he did some kind of spywork to learn this? Wouldn't be surprising. "Most of the Foundation doesn't even know the Neo World Program exists. Most of those that do know about it believe it's too risky."

"Because no one in your organization is skilled enough to verify the program works as intended," Izuru said. "Such a task would be simple for me. Then you have nothing to lose if you test it on the Remnants of Despair. Not when the alternative is to put them to death."

A sharp pain stung Makoto in the gut, causing him to scowl. Dammit, he thought. That's... he's making too much sense. Probably trying to manipulate me into some plan of his. No, I don't want to deliver them to their executions... but I want to obey the suggestions of Izuru Kamukura even less!

"Why do you care whether they live or not, anyway?" Makoto demanded. "You said you have no connection to them!"

"I 'care' about no one," Izuru said flatly. "They are merely ideal tools for measuring the impact of hope against that of despair."

"Touching," Makoto said, still scowling.

"Again," Izuru said, "Your agreement with me is not relevant to my request."

"And also 'again'," Makoto said, parroting him, "Why would I go against the orders of the Future Foundation's council for you?"

"Your previous pattern of behavior indicates that overt defiance of authority is not out of character for you in instances where you feel that said authority lacks proper moral judgment."

Makoto turned his head to look away as he scoffed. "So you're saying that 'proper moral judgment' would be for me to trust you? That's... sorry, that's kind of a hard sell."

In spite of his own snarky comment, Makoto couldn't stop wondering: What if he was telling the truth? Is there any way to tell if Kamukura meant anything he said? Makoto pondered. If he's being honest about any of it... even just a part of it, that could mean he really does want to turn himself in, at least. And then... maybe we could work with that, even if that's only part of the story. I really want to believe that we could turn him to our side... but that's such a big leap to make. So, okay, consider it: If this isn't just a trap, for what reason might he want to turn himself in? Are there possibilities beyond what he's telling me?

He brought a hand to his chin and cast his eyes towards the ground. Izuru made no movement. Makoto remained lost in thought.

Maybe only want to know what 'reform' looks or feels like. Or... wait, he could be sincere in his desire to be incarcerated even if he IS loyal to despair, and that loyalty hasn't wavered. In that case, I guess he'd want to lose his freedom just to disappoint and depress himself. Wouldn't be the weirdest thing we've seen from the despair-faithful...

No matter what I do, I can't let him mess around with the Neo World Program. He could probably reprogram things in an instant. Even if I had him under constant watch while he worked, there'd be no way we could trust his interactions with it.

No, I'd rather include Kamukura among the patients in the Hope Restoration attempt, if I even did it. It might be a long shot, but there's a chance we could restore his mind back to being who he used to be. That'd be a giant win if it worked.

Surely he's considered that we might try it, though?

Plus, is there any point in trusting a program that Matsuda worked on? That's part of why the Foundation's higher-ups don't want to use it. His connection to Enoshima... our memories...

But Kirigiri-san has argued that it's Fujisaki-kun who had to do all of the actual programming. His 'virtual' tests involving pre-programmed brain data all worked flawlessly. Even if the information that Fujisaki-kun received from Matsuda was somehow devious, there's no way he could control the programming or how the tests ran.

That makes sense to me, unless Enoshima ever got access through him. There's no record or evidence of anything like that, but it's still possible.

And none of this matters until I answer one central question: Am I willing to let these people die? And I know I can't do that if there's a chance that they can be saved.

And if that chance is real, am I willing to defy the Foundation just to make them all into guinea pigs for something that might fail?

Like Kamukura said... it's not like leaving they're going to get any worse. I suppose that goes for him, too.

But... but then I shouldn't be trusting his words, either...

Makoto squinted his eyes shut and growled in frustration. Izuru merely blinked once and frowned slightly.

After a pregnant pause, Izuru pivoted 90 degrees and looked towards the stairs which Makoto had climbed to get there. "Decide," he said simply. And as soon as Izuru said that, Makoto could hear the footsteps that were rushing up the stairs. He twisted away from Izuru so he could see the new arrivals. Soon thereafter, a formation of four Future Foundation security troops came up in an orderly fashion, followed by a far-less-orderly Yasuhiro Hagakure.

Hiro stumbled his way onto the floor screaming variations on "Naegi-chi?!" and "Naegi-chi!" repeatedly as his tie flapped in every imaginable direction due to this frantic movements. Once the tie landed over on top of his shoulder, he was finally finished pivoting and spotted Naegi. Hiro let out a triumphant "NAEGI-CHI!" as he dashed towards him.

Hagakure gave no reactions to the presence of Kamukura. The soldiers with him tried to yell out warnings, but he either didn't hear them or didn't care. As he raced up to his friend, Hiro asked, "You okay, Naegi-chi?! You just vanished on us, man!"

"Yeah," Makoto confirmed softly. "I'm all right." By the time he'd given the response, the four security troops had crossed the floor and slipped effortlessly into a formation that put them in two groups of two with a small gap in-between. All four leveled assault rifles at Izuru as they approached and continued holding those weapons at the ready after they stopped their advance.

Hiro looked over at Izuru and spoke to him cordially. "Who's your, um... " he started to step forward and extend a hand to him, but Izuru made no move to meet it. When Hiro looked into Izuru's eyes, the new arrival froze in place. "Uuuhhhh?" was all Hiro managed to groan out. Izuru's eyes made no move to meet his. Nor did Izuru make any move at all.

It was Makoto who got Izuru to react to the new arrivals. "So," he said calmly, "You're gonna cooperate, right?"

Still ignoring Hiro, Izuru looked at Makoto, then regarded the four men aiming their rifles at him. "Of course," he said back. With that, he raised both arms in the air.

With a heavy sigh, Makoto turned to the security troops. "Search him, please," he ordered. Two of them stepped forward without hesitation. Another moved forward slowly, then looked back at his lingering compatriot.

The man in the rear saw his squadmate's look of concern and turned to Makoto. "Naegi-sama?" he called out, raising his hand. "This man in front of us... is he-"

Makoto tried to smile reassuringly, although the sweat beading his forehead probably gave him away. "He's surrendering into our custody, so you can keep your weapons ready but still, let's try to be relaxed about this, okay?" Makoto offered. "To answer your question: It's probably who you think it is." He noticed both the the soldier who asked the question and his compatriot seemed to go rigid. "I can be the one to lead him downstairs, if you'd prefer... "

"I... ye-yes, understood," was his reply. The questioning man in the back of the squad looked white as a sheet now, but he lifted his rifle and slowly advanced on Izuru nevertheless.

Minutes later, Makoto had pulled Hiro off to another corner of the floor so that they might be out of eyesight and, hopefully, earshot. As soon as he was even that far removed from Izuru Kamukura, Makoto felt his body loosen up. He'd been tensing himself the entire time he was with Kamukura, and now he felt every muscle in his body aching.

Once they were separated from the others, Makoto explained the situation to Hiro — most of it, at any rate.

"'kay, so what's the big deal?" Hiro asked. He had his left hand up on top of his head and was looking at Makoto askance. "I'm sure you wanna give him a chance, yeah? And it's not like he can just bust out when the whole security team is on top of him, right?"

"Uhhh... I mean, you'd think not," Makoto said, his voice wavering. "But... see, here's the thing... " He gestured for Hiro to lean down closer to him. When Hiro did so, Makoto leaned forward and cupped one hand over his mouth. He whispered into Hiro's ear...

...and Hiro jerked backwards, clutching his head with both hands and crying out "IZURU FRIGGIN' KAM-MMMF!"

Makoto had to clamp a hand over his mouth to stop him from shouting the rest. "PLEASE, keep it down!" Makoto pleaded. "I don't think China needs to know who's here before the rest of our branch does!"

"MEE... MEH MA MEURAEE MEEM!" was all Hiro could say through Makoto's hand.

"Speak quietly!" Makoto commanded in a stage whisper. He pulled his hand way from Hiro's mouth slowly.

As soon as he was able, Hiro said, "You gotta tell the security team! This guy's major bad news!"

"Well, a couple of them seemed to figure it out already... " Makoto responded.

"That's not the same! Just warn them, man!" Hiro pleaded. "They gotta be prepared, right?!"

"I think it's better this way, " Makoto told him, shaking his head. "If I make a major security situation out of it, they'll just get aggressive with him. You know how the Foundation trains the combat groups to deal with high-level threats: There's a lot of screaming orders, shoving them to the ground, chaining their arms and legs, intimidation tactics — all that noise. I'd rather not poke the bear, understand?"

Hiro's shoulders slumped. "I-I guess... but geez, why are all those guys downstairs here with him?!" He folded his arms and scrunched his face in thought. "Or I mean, is he the one who came because they were here first? Like, Did he hear our radio chatter or somethin'... ?"

"Oh, ahhh... " Makoto began. He wasn't quite sure how to explain that the Remnants of Despair were part of the package. Aw, geez. If I tell him THAT, he's probably gonna lose it. He'll scream and pass out, most likely. I'll have to get the troops to carry him back to the ship at that point...

"It doesn't matter!" Hiro declared thrusting one hand forward. "We gotta focus on this Kamukura issue, I think!" Makoto exhaled, oddly relieved to be able to avoid the subject even if he wasn't 100% comfortable with hiding it. Hiro went on: "And with that guy here, we gotta call Kirigiri-chi at least, yeah?"

Now Makoto looked away. "I'm not sure," he said warily.

"What's there to not be sure about?!" Hiro asked, growing increasingly desperate. "It's the regular thing! The standard... whatever!"

Looking up at him, Makoto said, "'Procedure,' you mean. The standard procedure. But when Kirigiri-san and Togami-kun are elsewhere, I'm the acting head of the branch. And for me, it's just that... I-I don't know if I can do this to her. Bring her into this, that is."

"Sure you can!" Hiro said, sounding more pleading than encouraging. "C-come on! She'll know exactly what to do!"

"The minute she knows what's going on here, she bears responsibility for it," Makoto explained. "And then she'll be the one owning whatever happens to anyone we pick up here. You get me?"

"Well, yeah," Hiro said. He threw up his hands. "But so what? That's her job!"

Makoto sighed. "It is, but I just... " He shook his head, letting his eyes drift to the floor. "I don't want her to bear the weight of carting a victim of Hope's Peak off to his death. Because that's what we're dealing with here, remember? Someone who was manipulated by the worst people in power at Hope's Peak. A victim." And the Remnants downstairs are just Enoshima's victims, he thought to himself. None of them turned to despair by their own choice. "Why should they - er, he have to die for someone else's mistake?"

"Hey man, it''s not our call," Hiro reminded him. "What can we do about it?"

"Argue the point, at least," Makoto said. "We could even... " His voice drifted off. He looked away guiltily.

"Even what?!" Hiro asked, suddenly worried anew. "There's no point in keeping them prisoner, right? I mean, you can't just turn them loose!"

"Of course not," Makoto said. He shifted his feet uncomfortably. "But uh... there's something else that nobody's tried to use yet. Remember the Neo World Program?"

"The Neo World... ?" Hiro repeated. He looked up at the sky, attempting to pull the memory from his brain. "Wasn't that some video game that Fujisaki-chi was helping to make... ?"

"It's not a game," Makoto told him. "An entire virtual world — one designed for a type of retrograde psychotherapy. It's supposed to revert a patient's mind to an earlier state of being, then allow the patient to adjust to living in that version of themselves before they return to reality. And when they return, they're supposed to be that previous version of themselves."

Hiro stared at him, shifting his jaw from left to right as it hung open. "Uhhhhhhh," he finally groaned. "I don't really get it, but I'm bettin' you wanna put Kamukura to be a patient in this... whatever-it-is?"

Makoto held his hands out in front of him as if framing something. "Try to picture it," he said. "This program might have the power to undo what Hope's Peak did to him." He smiled. "It could begin to make things right for their gross human experiments. We could turn him back into a normal person!"

"It's just that you're saying 'might' and 'could,'" Hiro said. He wrapped his arms tightly around himself to rub them for warmth. "So what if that's not what happens?"

"Then... it's not like things can get any worse?" Makoto said, attempting to smile.

Hiro folded his arms. "Just for the record, I wanna say that I hate this," he said miserably. "I hate it more than... " He searched his mind for something he truly despised. "More than a lot of stuff. I hate it more than the freakin' skyfish!"

Makoto decided to try and lighten the mood. "So, at least it's not more than the oc-"

"No, I hate it even more than the occult!" Hiro suddenly screamed.

"Oh," Makoto half-whispered.

Hiro closed his eyes. "The council's gonna be mega-pissed if you do this," he noted.

"Probably not if it works," Makoto theorized. "Besides, they need us, right? I mean, using our celebrity status to their advantage has really boosted their public image! It's not like they can punish us too bad, right... ?"

Hiro's face began to take on sickly color. "Doesn't take clairvoyance to tell me what you're gonna do," he said sourly. "You wanna actually try this, don't you?"

"Of course I want to," Makoto responded. "I want to believe that anybody can be redeemed," after all. "And at least you won't take any blame, okay? I don't want this decision to fall to Kirigiri-san or Togami-kun or be put on anybody else. I'll even document that you're against it, all right? This one's all on me."

Hiro grinned. "Well, thanks a lot for that!" he said, flashing a thumbs-up. That "thumbs-up" hand fell as swiftly as his face did. "Wait... Th-that's not gonna do me much good if Kamukura kills all of us!"

Makoto chuckled and shook his head. "I'm really not taking this lightly... I know it's scary. I'm scared, too." His smile contorted a bit and started to sag into an expression of weariness. "If you wanna go elsewhere for this, I get it. I can drop you off or send you off on your own landing craft or whatever."

Hiro frowned at the sight of Makoto's new look of exhaustion. "Look, maybe we need to-"

They were interrupted by the arrival of one of the security troops. "Naegi-sama?"

Makoto turned to see the same man who asked him the question moments earlier stepping up to the corner where he and Hiro were hiding. "Uh, yes?"

If the other man could tell how nervous Makoto was, he made no comment on it. He only held up a small plastic baggie and announced, "This was everything we found on him. Mostly just lint. Only one real possession."

Makoto took the baggie and held it close to his face so that he could get a better look at the contents. Amidst some small clumps of fuzz was a small object that was mostly triangular in shape. The majority of it was white, but there some blue and red highlights along the edges and in the center.

As soon as he spotted it, Makoto forgot the difficult conversation he was having moments ago. "Is that... ?" he muttered.

"The men didn't recognize it," the security trooper offered.

Jolted out of his distraction, Makoto nodded to him. "Ah, good work. I'll be there in a few minutes, all right? Guard our guest until then."

"All right," was the response. The security trooper looked down. "He's barely moved since you left... hasn't said a word either."

"No need for anyone to be afraid of him, then," Makoto suggested with a small smile. "Right?"

"Right," the other man replied, sounding uncertain. He gave Hiro a nod of acknowledgement before pivoting and walking back the way he came.

Makoto barely noticed when he was out of sight. As soon as the conversation ended, he'd started opening up the baggie and delicately removing the triangular object within. It was barely larger than a thumbprint and mostly made of plastic. Makoto held the object between his forefinger and thumb and examined it, twisting it and turning it over to look at the edges and back. On the back, he discovered a thin metal grip — a bobby pin.

Hiro leaned forward for a closer look. "What is it?" he asked.

"A hairpin, I think," Makoto said. He turned his head towards his friend. "I mean... I haven't paid much attention to girls' accessories before, but Komaru definitely wore stuff like this in junior high. Most of hers were the faces of her favorite manga characters or-"

"Not that, geez," Hiro said. He pointed at the opposite side of the pin with one finger. "What's that?"

After flipping it over, Makoto smiled. "Gala Omega," he said.

Hiro scratched his chin. "Um, is that Latin... ?" he guessed.

Makoto chuckled and looked up at him. "No, it's a video game," he said. "An older 'shoot-'em-up' from way back when the Famicom was still a big deal." He smiled fondly. "I never owned the home port, but Gala Omega was one of the machines at a game corner near my house growing up. It had like 10 or 12 machines, and all of them were out of date, but it was still a nice collection. Most of the other kids would be keeping Street Fighter Alpha 3 or Mr. Driller 2 all queued up, so I typically wound up having to choose from one of the older, less-popular machines. Just my luck, of course."

"Oh," Hiro said. "I didn't play a lot of video games as a kid. Maybe that's why I never heard of it?"

"Yeah, it's not one of the big names people would talk about at school," Makoto said. "More like... what people call a 'cult classic,' I suppose. And I was terrible at it," he added with a laugh. "I couldn't even get past the second stage! Not that that ever kept me from trying."

"Okay, cool I guess," Hiro said dismissively, "But why's Kamukura carrying around a hairpin shaped like a whatever-it-is from the game?"

"It's the spaceship the player controlled," Makoto said. He looked back at the pin in his hand. "And... " He shook his head. "And I'm not sure." But it's important, he thought. There's something to this hairpin. I just can't put my finger on it yet. Turning back to Hiro, he decided to shift gears. "Hey, why don't you go downstairs and make sure they're giving all the refugees some health checks? Then get them onto the boat. Tell the team to separate them out among compartments in the hold for now."

Hiro leaned away. "Seriously, the hold?! We can do better than that-!"

"The compartments all cleaned recently," Makoto said. "And just... look, trust me on this, okay? I'll radio an order down to confirm." A pang of guilt echoed in his chest. As soon as everyone is on the ship, I've... I've gotta tell him everything. And that's... not likely to go well.

Hiro sighed. "Yeah," he said. "Okay. Just... look, be careful with whatever you do. Okay?"

Makoto nodded. And with that, Hiro left.

With the four security troops now surrounding him, Izuru Kamukura stood with his hands cuffed, still in the same spot he was when Makoto walked away. When Makoto Naegi approached him, he watched with interest until he arrived directly in front of the new captive. "Handcuffs are unnecessary," Izuru said when Makoto arrived.

"You can't blame us for being cautious," Makoto said. "And yeah, I know they're probably also pointless, but sometimes people need a tiny sense of security, even if it's a false one." He smiled. "Plus, look at the bright side: At least we didn't chain your legs."

Izuru remained motionless. "You've decided?" he asked.

"Yes," Makoto said. "You'll be going where you wanted to go. I've just... decided to change your role in it."

His eyes drooped ever so slightly. "I see," Izuru remarked.

Makoto nodded. "If you really want to give hope a test... I can't think of a bigger one than putting you into the program with the others." Izuru breathed slowly. He stood without speaking for a while. Makoto counted the seconds in his mind as a way to try and distract from his own nerves. After a while, he held his breath.

At long last, Izuru said, "Very well."

The soldiers and Makoto all seemed to simutaneously exhale after he agreed. "G-go-good," Makoto stammered. "You'll, um, you'll have to lose the clothes when we arrive, so don't freak out on us if they make you disrobe, 'kay?" he said. His tone was part-suggestion, part pleading. "It's... it's just how the patients have to be connected," Makoto said. "We'll save your clothes in a nearby locker."

Makoto turned to the troops. "Hang out here while I head downstairs. I need to get some stuff set up before I want you to bring him down. I'll radio up when it's time for you to come to the ship."

All the troops nodded. "Sir" and "Yessir" responses came from the four. After that, Makoto turned and walked away.

When he was halfway to the stairs, Izuru called out: "And... ?"

Makoto stopped his exit and looked back. "And... your acquaintances will be put in with you, of course... ?" he guessed.

"That is not what I want to know," Izuru said.

"Uhh," Makoto thought. "Your possessions will also be in the locker... ?" Izuru said nothing. His eyes looked away. Makoto took the fact that he wasn't demanding a different answer to mean that he'd guessed correctly this time. Makoto turned and resumed his exit.

He allowed himself to smile as he walked off, slipping one hand into his right pocket as he went. There, he once more gripped the Gala Omega hairpin between his thumb and forefinger. That clinches it, he thought. He acts like he's driven by logic. Says he only wants to relieve his 'boredom.' Claims he cares about 'no one.' Pretends that lives don't matter to him. And then he carries around some girl's Gala Omega pin in his pocket for no reason. Even worries about whether he'll be able to get it back.

Kiri would've seen it so much sooner... it's not a video game thing, because video games have patterns and recognizable programming. Play them for long enough, and even the most erratic and random games have some kind of predictability.

It's not the game — it's the GIRL. It's obviously a sentimental object. That means he still has human connections. Who she is and where she is don't matter. What matters is that he obviously still cares about her, whether she's present or missing or alive or dead. He... values someone. THAT means he wants this redemption whether he realizes it or not.

In the end, either he's not lying... or he only THINKS he's lying.

And that's all I need.

Long time no see, you beautiful people.

I'm not gonna try to make any excuses for how long this took. If you follow my Tumblr, you probably know some of them already. I'm sorry either way. Thank you to everyone who's been patient enough to come back and read this! And if you're new here... uh... wow... thank you for reading. Really. Please leave me a comment if you can spare the time?

As far as this chapter goes, it's interesting to me how chatty Kamukura is in the flashbacks of DR2. He even pontificates a lot on his own importance and talent's importance. On the other hand, he's prone to long bouts of silence and speaks in select few words in Danganronpa 3. I suppose circumstances must play a role in the dichotomy. I tried to capture some kind of balance here; the talk with Naegi is more DR2, the rest is more DR3.

Sorry that it's a flashback chapter if you were waiting for more trial advancement... but on the other hand, you're obviously supposed to glean that Naegi is conveying all of this to the group so we can call upon it later. :)

I've also learned not to say when I hope to have another chapter up, because no matter when I say I want to have the next one finished, it always seems to take me much longer. :P

Next time: The 78th class is forced to explain some inconvenient truths. (That aren't about global climate change.)