Disclaimer: I don't own Ghost in the Shell, I've said this, you get it, yadda yadda.

The second part...enjoy, and please r and r!

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Part 2: Being

The Chief listened without reaction to the recording of Togusa's conversation, if one could call it that, with the hacker. When the recording was finished, he sat back in his hospital bed and fixed Togusa with a sharp eye. "Well?" said he.

Togusa placed his chin in his hands and stared morbidly into empty space. "I think the hacker knew Matoko Kusanagi."

"What makes you say that?" The Chief's voice was bland and emotionless.

"Because of the way she reacted when I mentioned the Major's name. She went totally silent, and then hung up."

"Perhaps she was disconnected."

Togusa shook his head. "I don't think so. Sometimes a man's got to rely on his instincts."

"True." The Chief shrugged. "But then the question is, how did the hacker know Kusanagi? Throughout her life as a cyborg, she had few friendly relationships. In fact, the only friends she ever had were the agents of Section Nine. Namely, us."

"Exactly. Doesn't it strike you as odd that every member of Section Nine has been ghost-hacked? Except me, of course- I can't be ghost-hacked. And then Kusanagi comes up, and the hacker gets all weird. There's got to be some connection."

"Such as…?"

Togusa shrugged. "That's where I'm in the dark. Maybe she feels that we're responsible somehow for Matoko Kusanagi's death."

"But why would she think that?" the Chief asked practically. "It was no fault of Section Nine's. Bateau reported that she was destroyed by snipers whose true target was the Puppetmaster. Due blame has been placed on both the Puppetmaster and the former chief of Section Six."

Togusa said nothing. Wild rumors had been circulating since the day Kusanagi died; claims of a cover-up and conspiracy within Section Six. Some even went as far to claim that Kusanagi was still alive, since only her shell had been discovered. Togusa didn't know what was true and what wasn't, but he did know this- the speed at which the Puppetmaster incident had been resolved was just slightly suspicious.

"Well, I suppose it doesn't make any difference," Togusa said with a sigh. "I'm no closer to catching the hacker than I was when I started."

"Go home," the Chief advised quietly. "Get some sleep and come back to the project. You'll figure it out eventually. I have faith in you, my young friend."

Togusa smiled. It was the highest compliment the Chief had ever paid him. "I'll do my best to catch this person, whoever she is," he promised.

Togusa left the hospital determined to come up with a new plan, but on the long drive from the hospital's district to his, he began to lose hope. There was a great mystery surrounding this hacker and he wanted to know what it was, but where to start? He didn't have the slightest clue.

He was replaying his conversation with the hacker in his mind when his phone rang, jerking him from his thoughts. He jumped, swerved his car on the road, swerved back into the proper lane, and answered the phone.

"Hello?" he said as calmly as possible.

"We want to meet you, Togusa." It was the little girl. The hacker.

Togusa gripped the wheel with a white-knuckled fist. "How do you know my name?"

"Does it matter? Will you meet us or not?"

Togusa wondered if he had time to contact the Chief on another line, but he decided it wasn't worth losing the hacker again. "Where?"

"Look at your computer." Togusa obeyed, glancing at the monitor above the automatic shift. A map appeared, with red arrows pointing him in the right direction. "We will be waiting for you. The map will show you the way. And, Togusa-" The girl paused, and added quietly, "We want to speak with you alone. If you bring anyone else, even in thermoptics, we will know and you will never meet us."

"All right," Togusa muttered. "I'll be there." He clicked the phone off and did a neat one-eighty in the middle of the highway.

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The map led Togusa to a dark, damp alleyway between two warehouses in a terrible district of town. He made sure his handgun was within easy reach before cautiously stepping out of the car, eyes scanning the gloom. There was not a soul to be seen.

Guess the hacker decided to take her time in coming, Togusa thought wryly. He paced through the narrow alleyway, constantly looking over his shoulder. A drip-drip-drip of water quickly began to irritate him.

Togusa was beginning to wonder if this was some sort of joke when footsteps suddenly echoed through the alley. He whirled around and froze.

Walking toward him was a very small girl clad in a formal black dress and black boots, her heels tapping audibly on the concrete. Her smiling face was framed by jet-black hair closely cropped, accented by enormous, wide eyes of a pale blue. Eyes that watched him intently; eyes that contained a clarity, mystery, and depth all at once that did not belong in any child's eyes. Togusa stared, frozen with shock and disbelief, at the face of Matoko Kusanagi.

"Major?" he asked shakily.

Her smile widened. When she replied, it was in her high, clear, little girl's voice. "Hello, Togusa. It's been a long time."

Togusa simply gaped. He couldn't have said anything even if he wanted to.

"Don't look so surprised," she chided gently. "Didn't they tell you? All they found of Matoko Kusanagi was a shell. A body without a head." She touched her head gently, gripping both sides with small hands.

"It...it's you?" Togusa demanded numbly. "You're the ghost-hacker?"

She nodded. "Yes. We are responsible for the immobilization of the masses of ghosts everyday. It's a tiring job." She sighed.

Togusa shook his head, mostly to clear it. "God above- why? Why are you doing this?"

"We'll explain, Togusa, don't worry." She smiled at him; in that smile was a million glimpses of something far beyond what he understood. "That is what we came here to do."

Togusa took a step back from her, suddenly afraid. "What are you?" he whispered.

"Bateau didn't tell you, did he?" Her face was serious now as she gazed at him. "Of
course he didn't. He had an understanding with Kusanagi. Very well then." She lifted her chin. "A year ago Matoko Kusanagi was an agent of Section Nine on the trail of an infamous ghost-hacker called Project Twenty-five-oh-one, also known as the Puppetmaster. What she didn't know was that the Puppetmaster was just as intent on finding her. The Puppetmaster was a living being created by information in the Internet. He was intended to be no more than a computer program, but the threads of the Net combined within him to create something close to a DNA strand, resulting in the formation of a mirror image of a human ghost. This ghost gave him the same attributes that a true human ghost possesses- awareness of his own being, thoughts, memories, desires, and a sense of destiny.

"But the Puppetmaster understood that his ghost was not human. As he journeyed throughout the Net, he discovered his many capibilities and also, his many limits. He realized that a true human ghost possessed secrets that he had spent his existence searching for, as well as the keys to a thousand more secrets. A human ghost was also capable of functions he was not, such as reproduction and death. Ultimately he understood that with a human ghost, he would be unlimited. And so he began to search for a suitable ghost with which to merge."

"Merge?" Togusa croaked, his voice barely a whisper. He cleared his throat. "What do you mean, merge?"

"Merge," she repeated calmly. "A connection, and ultimately a complete unification, between this program called Twenty-five-oh-one and a suitable human ghost. The Puppetmaster jumped from network to network, seeking a human to merge with, and found-" She smiled. "Matoko Kusanagi."

Togusa stared at her as the secrets began to dawn on him; the many mysteries surrounding that ghost-hacking incident a year ago were revealing themselves. "That night," he whispered. "When the Puppetmaster was trapped in a body, and you...the Major...followed him to the abandoned museum...when the snipers from Section Six came to destroy the Puppetmaster..."

"All they found was a shell," she said softly. "A shell was all that was left of Matoko Kusanagi. No head, and no ghost."

"Then...you...and him..."

"Merged?" she suggested. "Oh, yes. Now we are both Matoko Kusanagi and the Puppetmaster, and...we are neither."

Togusa rubbed a hand across his eyes. An immense headache was growing in his skull; the result of trying to digest everything he'd just been told. "All right," he said weakly. "So- you're merged. But you still haven't answered my question. Why...why in God's name...why are you hacking ghosts?"

"It's simple," she replied calmly. "The Puppetmaster desires variety, and Matoko Kusanagi desires company. We-" She glanced down at herself. "We are only one. One omniscient being, capable of so much. The advancement of the human race has come to a standstill. Only we have ascended. But if humans were merged with programs like Twenty-five-oh-one-"

"That's what you're doing?" Togusa demanded, horrified. "You're immobilizing human ghosts so that they can be merged with computer programs?"

"Exactly," she said patiently. "Think of it as a form of reproduction. We are going to create programs that are mirror images of Twenty-five-oh-one, as many of them as there are ghosts. When our offspring merge with humans, a new, highly advanced species will be created. We are going to instigate the greatest change in human history."

"But why? Why must you change everything? Why can't you let evolution happen as it will?"

Kusanagi laughed, a high-pitched, childish giggle. "Evolution?" she repeated gleefully. "You mean human evolution? Togusa, human evolution no longer exists. It disappeared when humans embraced computerization."

Togusa shook his head in denial. It wasn't true, what she was saying. It couldn't be true.

"Let me tell you a story, Togusa," she said with a mysterious, almost playful smile. "Once there was a ghost in a shell, and her name was Matoko Kusanagi. One day a computer program known as the Puppetmaster approached her with an offer to merge. Matoko was reluctant to do so. She was afraid of the program's offer, afraid of what might happen to her if she accepted it. But then Matoko Kusanagi and the Puppetmaster were attacked. Her shell was destroyed. Just before this occurred, the Puppetmaster merged with Matoko.

"When she woke inside a new shell, Matoko discovered that the Puppetmaster had merged completely with her while she slept; they were now a single, inseparable being. Matoko was not angry. Nor was she afraid. She felt the power inside her the moment she woke, the same power that had driven the Puppetmaster to merge with her in the first place. The entire world was at her fingertips.

"The being that Matoko and the Puppetmaster had become journeyed throughout their two planes of existence- the human world and the Net. And through their travels, they found the answers to all the questions asked by humans throughout the ages. Ultimately they discovered this- the great secret of the world is that there is no limit to the secrets of the world. The answers to life's questions are everywhere; the mysteries of man, life, and Earth are infinite. Their curiosity is insatiable. In the course of a year they have learned so much, and they will continue to learn forever.

Kusanagi looked down at a hand, closing it into a small fist. "In the not-distant future cyborgs will replace humans completely," she continued. "There will be nothing but artificiality everywhere in the world. This should not happen. Everyone should have our capabilities, our freedom. You should have our freedom, Togusa. If you underwent computerization-"

"You're crazy," Togusa snapped. "If you think I'm going to become a cyborg just so you can merge one of your programs with me-"

"Togusa." The voice that issued now from the little girl's mouth was Kusanagi's. Togusa met her eyes; in them was all the clarity and solemnity that made it impossible to believe that anyone but Kusanagi was speaking now.

"I understand what you're going through," she told him quietly. "I went through it too, you see. The Puppetmaster told me that it was my effort to remain what I was that was limiting me, and he was right. I didn't even realize how limited I was in my old shell, until I merged. I went from being nothing but a body that Section Nine controlled to what I am now." She smiled, shaking her head. "What am I now? I don't even know. All I know is that it's so much more than what I was before." The smile faded; she watched him seriously. "I won't lie to you and tell you that I wasn't changed. I'm no longer Matoko Kusanagi. Not entirely. But I carry her thoughts, her memories, her identity, and I realize now that her identity was massively restraining. I'm above her now.

"And what are you, Togusa? Can you deny that you are not also merely a body controlled by Section Nine? You're different, though- you're human. And because of this, you're restricted even more than I was. What use can Section Nine make of you when they have cyborgs to do the dirty work? Your career is at a standstill. Your life is at a standstill, especially now that you're single. You're going to live and you're going to die, and no one will be mourning you for long, because your life is meaningless."

Togusa had to clench his fists to resist the urge to cover his ears and drown out her voice. His eyes burned with unshed tears. It was true. Everything she said was true. That was the worst part.

"We're sorry," she said softly in her little-girl voice once more. "We tell you these things only because you were once the friend of Matoko Kusanagi, and because you should have the same freedom she does now. Everyone should have that freedom."

"Matoko Kusanagi is dead to me," Togusa said, his voice very quiet. "She turned tail and ran from her life and her friends and her responsibilties. She abandoned the world. Why would I do the same?"

"Because the world knows not who you are," was the reply.

Togusa could find nothing to say to that.

"Think about it," she advised, pale blue eyes clear and grave. "If you decide to do it, think of us, and we'll find you." Then she turned on her heels and walked away, the tapping of her black boots against the concrete echoing through the walls of the alleyway. Togusa watched her go until she was but a shadow, silhouetted against the light streaming in through the mouth of the alley.

Then she turned a corner, and she was gone.

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