Disclaimer: Do I own Ghost in the Shell? No. Am I using the concepts without permission? Hai. Am I making a profit? No, so please don't sue!

The final part of Crossroads...please r and r!

Crossroads
Part 3: Becoming


Togusa wasn't sure how long he stood in that alley before he got in his car and went home. On a normal day he would've gone straight to the Chief and reported everything that had just happened.

But today's not a normal day, is it? he thought numbly. Or maybe it was just him who wasn't normal. Maybe he'd never be normal again, assuming he once had been.

Back in his crappy, one-bedroom apartment, Togusa tossed his handgun aside and collapsed on his bed, staring up silently at the ceiling. He didn't know what to think, or what to feel. Talking with the being that Matoko Kusanagi had become unnerved him immensely.

Togusa reached into a pocket and removed the disc that contained all the known information on the hacker. He twirled it around in his fingers for a few minutes, staring at it, then snapped it in half. He might as well give up now. How could he possibly catch a hacker who, if what she said was true, could exist on the Net? Did he even want to try, now that he knew the hacker was, at least in part, Matoko Kusanagi?

When did life get so confusing? Togusa thought with an inward sigh. Today he'd uncovered mysteries that he now wished were still buried, mysteries about the people he'd thought were his friends. Bateau, the only witness to Kusanagi's 'death', must have seen everything that Kusanagi had described. Yet he hadn't said a word, even when everyone thought she was dead- why? Was it to protect her?

The Chief. Togusa was sure he knew something. After all, the Chief was the head of the investigation into the Major's death. He had also spoken directly to the Puppetmaster the same day that Kusanagi and the Puppetmaster merged. Togusa knew he was keeping silent as well, for whatever reason.

Ironically, it seemed that the only one who had been honest to Togusa thus far was the being that was Matoko and the Puppetmaster. Why, Togusa didn't know. Was Matoko Kusanagi, for whatever reason, still his friend? Or did she consider him just a tool to be used in her plan to merge her programs with human ghosts?

I should take her up on her offer, Togusa thought suddenly, surprising himself. In all his life, Togusa had never even considered computerization, even when he knew it would make his job as a law enforcement agent easier and less dangerous. It always seemed so...artificial. Yet Matoko had spoken against artificiality when she told Togusa of her plan. Did she really believe that her plan would better the human race? More importantly, was she right?

Togusa didn't know. Nor did he know whether or not he wanted to refuse Kusanagi's offer.

This is stupid,
Togusa thought tiredly. I can't even believe I'm considering this. For what reason would I do what she did? Then he remembered- for every reason that Matoko had listed. He was single, detached from the family he'd once had. His career was at a standstill. His life was at a standstill. If he turned in Matoko, he'd be celebrated for a while, then he'd go back to being the human who was useless where a cyborg could do the job. If he didn't turn her in, Matoko would merge her programs with the ghosts of cyborgs until only Togusa was left, alone. He was stuck at a crossroad with nowhere to go, just as Matoko had said.

She's wrong, Togusa thought stubbornly. Except the problem was that she wasn't.

* * *

Togusa got a call the following morning to report to the Chief at the hospital. He went, not knowing why he bothered. What was the point of it? What was the point of anything anymore?

"I just wanted to see how things are going in your investigation," the Chief said at their meeting as he sipped delicately at a cup of coffee.

"You're looking well, Chief," Togusa said in a bland voice.

The Chief looked at him sharply, not to be distracted.

"Nothing's been found," he replied tonelessly- like a well-trained dog, he added grimly to himself. "I doubt anything will ever be found."

The Chief's heavy white eyebrows raised. "What kind of attitude is that? Don't tell me you're discouraged."

"I don't know what I am anymore." Before the Chief could reply to that, Togusa added, "By the way- if I wanted to be computerized, who would I go to?"

The Chief's eyebrows snapped together. "No one," he said crisply. "All computerization clinics are closed. We cannot risk providing the hacker with new ghosts to immobilize. If you want to be computerized, you'll have to wait until this situation is resolved."

Togusa nodded, rising from his seat. "Is that it, Chief?"

"That's all." The Chief watched him oddly, but Togusa didn't care.

He was at the door, his hand on the knob, when he paused. "One more thing, Chief."

"Yes?"

Togusa glanced back at him. "I quit," he said simply. "I'm done with Section Nine."

The old man stared in open-mouthed shock as Togusa walked through the door, snapping it shut behind him.

* * *

I tried, Togusa thought wearily as he weaved in and out of traffic in his car, heading back to his apartment. I tried, Matoko. There's nothing to be done.

The phone rang, and Togusa jerked. He snatched up the receiver. "Matoko?"

"You called?" It was her again. Of course it was her. Togusa thought briefly about how much she sounded like a little child, although her body was only a shell- like a newborn child, ready to feast upon the world.

"I asked the Chief," he told her, slamming on the brakes as the traffic ahead of him came to a dead stop. "All the computerization clinics are closed. They don't want to create more ghosts only to have them hacked later on."

"Not all of them," she said brightly. "Wherever laws are set, there will be those that break them. Look." There was a beep as a map appeared on the computer screen in Togusa's car once more.

Togusa glanced at it, then back at the road as the traffic started moving again. "That map's going to lead me to a place that'll do it?" he demanded.

"Of course. When we decided to offer you the chance to merge with one of our newly-created programs, we knew that the clinics would be closed due to our activities. Fortunately, anything can be done on the black market. This place is called Bluechip Computerization Clinic. It operates in secret, of course, but it's safe. They'll create a duplicate of your body and transplant your ghost the same way any clinic will. We made sure we weren't going to be sending you anywhere dangerous."

"Thoughtful of you," Togusa muttered as he made the turn that put him in the right direction to the clinic.

"Togusa- are you sure you want to go through with this?"

Togusa was silent, considering her question seriously. "I want...I want to go where you've gone," he said at last. "I want to see what you've seen. Is that a good enough answer?"

"Is it?"

Togusa stared at the road, his fingers tapping against the wheel of his car. There was a vision in his mind's eye, a picture of a vast web with a million tiny lights crawling across it. One by one, the lights went dark, leaving only one great light that shone like a hundred suns, drinking in the energy of its surroundings.

"Yes," he said.

"Then we will see you soon. Goodbye, Togusa." The line went dead. The picture in his mind disappeared. Togusa drove on toward the Bluechip Clinic.

* * *

The doctors readied him without fuss for the computerization. They began by scanning every inch of Togusa's body, then sent him to a waiting room while they created the new cyborg. The process would take about two hours, they told him, at which point they would put him to sleep and transplant his humanity into the cyborg in the form of a ghost.

In the waiting room, Togusa was alone with his thoughts. He lay on a table, wearing a hospital gown, and stared up at the ceiling in a light trance. The sound of the door opening brought him back to earth. He blinked, surprised that his cyborg body was ready -it had been only an hour, at the most- and looked to the door.

It was not the doctors, as he anticipated. It was Matoko Kusanagi.

He sat up quickly and motioned for her to shut the door. "What are you doing here?" he hissed. "Some people do remember what you look like!"

She smiled at him. "You haven't been followed, if that's what you're worried about. Are you really that mistrusting of your former colleagues?"

"I don't know who to trust anymore," he told her honestly. "Seems that everyone I have trusted has lied to me, except you. Or have you lied to me as well?"

"No," she said firmly, shaking her head. "We have never lied to you, though we are surprised to hear that you trust us."

"I trust Matoko," he said quietly. "She was my friend, once."

"And still is," she assured him with a smile. "We are here with the program we are going to merge with your ghost. Her name is Program Twenty-five-oh-four."

"Her?" Togusa raised an eyebrow. "These things have genders?"

"No, but it may as well be a her than an it," she replied firmly. "Its are dead things."

Togusa blinked at her. Did I know this sort of thing is important to her? he wondered. "Well...can I talk with- with her? I mean, is she able to speak to me before we merge?"

"I am speaking to you."

Togusa stared closely at the little girl. There was no change in the expression on her face, or the tone of her voice. "How do I know that's true?"

"You can't," was the simple reply.

"Okay...um, do you have a name?"

"Yep," she said in a chirpy sort of voice. "It's Twenty-five-oh-four."

Togusa blinked again. "Anything shorter?"

"No," she said almost apologetically, "but it won't matter once we're merged. You
do still want to merge, don't you?" she added anxiously.

Togusa couldn't help smiling. He was startled at how young a computer program could sound- not world-wise at all, like Matoko. "Of course," he assured her.

She looked relieved. "Oh, good. I want to merge- I want to see what's out there. They told me-" She paused, looking around, and leaned close to him. "My parent told me that you and I can devour the world, once we're merged." She grinned and patted the belly of the little girl. "I'm feeling a bit hungry- how 'bout you?"

That startled a laugh out of him. I don't believe it, he thought wryly. The program I'm
about to merge with has a sense of humor.


"They're telling me I have to go now," the program whispered. "The doctors are almost done with your body." She grasped his hand tightly in her small, cold one. "See you soon, Togusa."

He gripped her hand just as fiercely as she. "See you soon, Twenty-four-oh-one."

She left, and Togusa stared up at the ceiling again. The picture of the light on the web was in his mind again as he reflected on what he was about to do.

Togusa closed his eyes, ready to become that one bright light.

* * *

Bateau's ghost was among the first to be restored by the new procedure developed by the doctors of Section Four. His conference the following day with the Chief was exactly one month to the date that Togusa had mysteriously disappeared off the face of the Earth.

The entire world was in a state of international emergency. The weeks since Togusa's disappearance had been a disaster. New victims of the ghost-hacker appeared every day. Instead of dozens per day, the ghost-hacker was striking hundreds. Masses of cyborgs had gone into hiding; it was the only way they could protect their ghosts. As it had been before, it was still- only humans were immune.

When the numbers of immobilized ghosts had increased, Section Six immediately blamed Section Nine, accusing them of allowing the disappearance of their one human officer, Togusa. Section Nine responded by releasing information on Project Twenty-five-oh-one, previously concealed in Section Six's database, just as Section Six presented evidence that former Section Nine major Matoko Kusanagi was alive and responsible for the ghost-hacking. Both sets of information were tucked away immediately; finding themselves at a standoff, Sections Six and Nine instead focused their attention on Section Four, demanding a restoration of ghosts. Section Four released word of an experimental procedure a week later.

Bateau, with his ghost fully restored, had demanded a conference with the Chief of Section Nine.

"These Section Four idiots are full of shit," Bateau told the Chief angrily, banging his fist down for emphasis. Though his ghost was restored, the procedure had left Bateau weak as a new kitten, and being bed-ridden in the hospital drove him crazy.

The Chief arched a brow, gazing calmly at the enormous cyborg. "Why do you say that?"

"They think their damned procedure is going to restore the ghosts of the fucking world. They know how fast this hacker is striking now! God only knows why-"

"You might want to take a look at this," the Chief said quietly, handing Bateau a stack of papers. "I think it'll answer your question."

Bateau leafed through the papers. They were computer printouts charting the activities of the hacker on the Net, recently acquired by the top intelligence agents in Section One.

A quick glance through the charts was all Bateau needed. He tossed the papers aside, his mouth set in a grim line. "There are two hackers."

The Chief nodded. "Yes. And we have reason to believe that the hackers intend to make more-" He stopped abruptly. Dangerous ground was being tread.

The Chief's eyes met Bateau; they stared at each other in silence. Then the two men sighed, as if a great weight had suddenly been lifted from them. "It's her," Bateau whispered. "One of these hackers- I'm sure of it. It's Kusanagi...and the Puppetmaster."

The Chief closed his eyes. "It's true, then. Kusanagi never died. She simply...merged."

"Yeah." Bateau shook his head. "I was there. I watched it happen, and...and I couldn't do anything about it. Afterwards I told myself that Matoko is happy as she is-"

"And she very well may be," the Chief said quietly. "But why begin this project of ghost-hacking?"

"They're going to make more," Bateau whispered. "It would be so simple with every ghost immobilized, as long as they have enough programs to merge with them. Togusa-"

The Chief looked at him sharply. "Then you believe-?"

"I do," Bateau said firmly. "All along we've been asking ourselves- why us? Why has every cyborg in Section Nine been hacked? It's because of Matoko. It's her way...of visiting old friends." He smiled, in spite of himself.

"She'll come back again for us," the Chief whispered.

Bateau nodded. "Exactly. Which is why Section Four should've wasted their fucking procedure on someone else. She's not going to forget. She'll come back, and she'll hack us all over again, and put the programs in us. Then we'll be what she is now." He leaned back and closed his eyes. "She's going to merge the world with her programs."

"She'll destroy the human race as we know it."

"No." Bateau opened his eyes and stared into empty space. "She'll immortalize it."

"Utter nonsense," the Chief snapped, but Bateau only shrugged. The Chief watched the distant cyborg for a few moments, then sighed. "Perhaps you and I should think about going into hiding."

"No way," Bateau snapped, coming back to the present. "I'm not hiding anywhere. If Matoko wants my ghost that much, she can have it."

There was nothing to say to that. The Chief left, and Bateau was alone with his thoughts.

Togusa, you damn rookie- I never even knew you had it in you. Bateau smiled a tiny smile, shaking his head in resignation.

And Matoko...my best friend...I know. You won't forget. He looked down at his hands. They were shaking.

I'm waiting, my friends.

...See you soon.

* * *

End.

* * *