My tears couldn't stop flowing through my eyes.
"What…happened…? Tell me…!"
I can't think of anything else. I was flustered. No, agitated. No, mad. Yes, specifically, at myself. I should have seen something like this; It's hasn't been that long since the Noumi Incident, and, I, of all people, let it unravel right in front of my eyes. Haru has always been this gullible, but how did I not see through it? What happens next?
A certain voice, just at the other side of Haru's pure white bed, echoed through the light beige cubicle. My eyes had all its intention to kill, to massacre, and to force my questions upon her, but, it's very safe… no, I'm very sure that she has an ace off her sleeve that she hasn't gotten around to play it. Furthermore, Haru's life is on the line; it's on her hands and I can't do a thing about it.
"I had to do this in order to save your life."
What is she saying? I don't understand, I don't understand it at all.
"Save… my life?" dumbfounded, my voice shook to its very core.
I can't understand it at all. It's only been 15 minutes since this incident, and I know for a fact that Haruyuki-kun is still within the «Unlimited Neutral Zone». In fact, I can't see anything to prove that my life is any danger. In fact, even in «Brain Burst», taking away life is practically impossible, even at its current level. It's always been that way, ever since the «AmuSphere» and the «ALO Incident», way back 20 years ago. So… why...? One thing is sure though: if she has «Haruyuki-kun» by a thread, then I have no choice but to trust her.
"If that's true then," I stood up, wiping away my tears. "Try me, why?"
『Chapter 3: The New Black Swordsman』
Ever since I was child, I always had the self-perspective of an abandoned older sister. My other sister, now «White Cosmos», also my mentor, and my «parent», and one of the «Originators» of «Brain Burst», established 2 years ago, and now, the un-proclaimed «White King». Just like any other sister, we were glue, stuck to each other during the first days of the «accelerated world». But, ever since that incident, I've always hated her. I wanted to kill her. Even mentioning anything of her, I despise it; I know for a fact that Haruyuki-kun should never know of this woman, ever. I still do blame her, for everything, including my real biological parent's cold shoulder and abandonment towards me. (I can't even call them my parents anymore.) But now, I probably couldn't kill her, with the me I'm now. Is it because she's still my sister, or is it because I'm still weak, after all, merely shaken by a new wildcard?
"I guess I could tell you right now," she popped a lollipop out of her pocket. "But I'd have to explain it to your, who do you call him again? … «Papa» as well."
«Papa»? How did…?! No, that's not important right now. What was more important was the fact that she knows too much about me. I could see it in her eyes; it's those of a girl who knows everything. In fact, judging from how she said it, it's as if she knew my actual parents will never come here. It was truth anyway: in fact, I doubt they won't even be there when I show them «Haruyuki-kun», the man I love. Furthermore, even from the start, she knew where to find us. Consequently, she might know how to counter even my «Piercing Forms» in «Brain Burst». Essentially, this is bad; I don't have even the slightest idea of this wildcard, not even her «Real Name».
Although, what did she meant by explaining it to «Papa»? I doubt my father, or my biological one, will even believe her. «Papa» was always a busy man, despite being a considerate person over the years, so even the mere mention of him listening to a teenager's delusions would be suicidal. Did she mean about «Haruyuki's condition»? It wouldn't make sense either; it would make more sense telling it to his parents. Furthermore, she mentioned 'explaining it as well', so I doubt she'll tell a lie as a cover-up for «Papa» as well. After all, even I wouldn't underestimate «Papa».
After all, he is Kazuto Kirigaya, CEO of «Neo RECTO Corporation», so if anyone has any more knowledge in «VRMMOs», it's definitely him.
"I don't think you can fool someone like «Papa» that easily." I warned. "I'm telling this as a sort of favor."
"Don't worry," she winked. "Do you think I'd lie to someone like you, and a «hero» like him?"
"A «hero»?" I feigned ignorance, and continued to asked.
"Remember the forgotten «Alicization Project»?" she gave a grin.
Alicization Project – I know for a fact that «Papa» was the main contributor in what could be said as the biggest USA-Japan conspiracy of its time. Even back on the days of the «AmuSphere», a «Bottom Top AI» was always a tempting research front. I know for a fact that he was lured into «The Underworld» in what seemed to be a successful «human mind duplication technique» with «The Seed» as a base. However, it was also «The Seed» that proclaimed its downfall in popularity, and thus the inevitable dying out of its hype. The main problem could have been simplified with one strong concept that came with it: «Cardinal» was restricting their actions. Because the "VRMMO System" treated them as NPCs, they couldn't gain the ability to override their own taught behavior. So, for someone looking as young as her, it would require her to practically know about the entire past, past beyond the currently established «information clearances» of this modern generation.
"I told you what I know," she responded. "And I know that your life is especially in danger."
She didn't answer back.
I doubt it was something only I could hear for myself, so I stopped. After all, she has all her intentions of telling «Papa» about this. But how about «Brain Burst»? Even if she were to tell him that, wouldn't the Brain Burst be not compatible with him, to the point that she won't be able even prove its existence? Then, what would be the point of telling him that? Rather, would he tell him, I mean, it wouldn't be required for her to tell him anything BB-related.
"I guess since you know who «Papa» really is," she jabbered. "Oh, never mind, I think he should be here by right around…"
A knock broke my tension: I had reflexively shrieked a 'kyaa~' somewhere, but thankfully I just as instinctively lightly bit my tongue. This girl is definitely getting more and more mysterious the more I talk to her: it's not normal. The only time when this should happen should only be in mystery novels, and I doubt this is a mystery novel or anything of the sort. Either way, it must be «Papa», as she already pointed out, so I guess there's no harm done (and even if there would be, it doesn't matter in this era and place) in instinctively opening the door anyway.
The door revealed a very peculiar man, barring a height quite higher than mine. His face, while his chin was obviously shaved, still retained his sufficiently long bangs, leveled black hair, and his feminine-like complexion, something quite rare for his age. He glanced, then stared at me, then smiled.
"Yuki-chan," he confabulated. "I see you haven't changed one single bit."
"Don't call me that," I pouted. "«Papa»."
I know it can feel quite awkward, but, in reality, I could only consider «Papa» a father, and will always continue to do so. Even when I was just a child, he would always visit me (and my sister, but who cares about her). Even when I was (inevitably) kicked out of the house, he was the first one who actually provided a home for me, metaphorical-wise. He was just as considerate as he was as far as I can remember, even during now. I know very well he's busy with the company's new project «RE: ALfheim Online» just within a week of release.
"Don't worry, Yuki-chan," he patted my head. "I've double-checked everything, even «Cardinal's AI». I'm pretty confident of this little guy's release back into the «VRMMO Market». I do remember messaging you to try it out on the «closed beta test» though."
RE: ALfheim Online – Even in the internet, it's receiving great praise, especially with its very famous predecessor, «ALfheim Online», with a very advanced «Cardinal» of its time. Even when a small company «Ymir» was the one maintaining it, the entire system, with its very advanced «Cardinal» system, continued to adapt and even add «campaigns» on its own. In 2030, when the 100th floor was finally completed, with much pain and suffering to boot, requiring 50% of the entire playerbase to defeat it, the entire «Cardinal» system then suddenly decided to introduce a large campaign, which to everyone's surprise, was both collaborated with «Ymir», who liked the idea of a large campaign for the entirely finished «ALO», and the «Cardinal» system, which, determining the entire player base's capability, introduced the «Yggdrasil Invasion Event». Without warning, each of the remaining clans were forced to fend for themselves, with the invasion of very high level mobs, some even exceeded the original «Level Cap» of 100, arriving from all sides. Finally, in 2035, recognizing the power of «Neuro-Linker» and its incompatibility with «ALO», they finally decided to hold one final event in the form of «Ragnarok». Players watched in awe as the entire World Tree, along with its entire lands covering the area, get disintegrated into nothingness. It was truly an epic end to a long, fruitful «VRMMO», one that I wished I participated at.
«RE:ALfheim Online» promises the same thing, but much more. With «Neuro-Linker» and its advanced emotion detection algorithm in place, it was possible for a tantamount of probabilities. Even in its «closed beta test», its players are wow'd by the intense «Skill Tree» and different emotion detection algorithms. More importantly, it finally implemented what was entirely missing in ALO's prime: dual skills. Each of the skill requiring a great amount of emotional stimuli and reaction time, it was sure that someone with a Dual Skill would be equivalent of being a hero. It didn't matter even if you didn't have a dual skill either: the game promised a whopping 1 billion skills, each with an entirely different set of stimuli, from simple biological process (like the «Lucky Twins» skill) to certain extreme stimuli (like the «Berserker» skill, which required a tremendous amount of anger). They also introduced a «Referral System», which lets the players choose up to 3 of their friends and let them do a "shallow copy" of «REAL» which would be active as long as the "parent" wishes to, and the new interface system, in which he himself promised would give full support to any «AI» currently on the market, plus a few very old ones. Lastly, they have entirely redesigned many areas in the original land, «World Tree», which has now become thrice as huge as the old one. The hype was, and is still, reasonable enough, indeed.
"Well, «Kirito-san»," The voice that I had almost forgotten was here voiced out. "Nice to meet you."
He had quite a surprised expression, which so obviously was shown on his face. Even I was surprised she even knows of it: in fact, most of the info. Regarding the capers of 2022 to 2028 were forgotten by almost everyone. After all, no normal human would be able to agree to an intrusive console such as a «Neuro-Linker» knowing those things.
"Such a nostalgic name," he let out a faint smile. "Brings back memories. So, are you Yuki-chan's friend?"
"Well, «Kirito-san»," she chucked the lollipop stick into a trash bin. "Now that you're here, I guess it's time for an orientation, then."
She sat down, right next to Haruyuki-kun's bed. I saw her flashing through several screens with her lightning fast typing, glancing at several screens before moving on to the next. «Papa» stood right in front of her, as if somehow he was intrigued. I myself continued to stare back at her, without a returning glance at all. It really was as if she somehow trusts us. With all honestly, I feel a little bit uncomfortable with people like her, probably just the same with «Papa» back then when he first offered help.
"There we go,"
She had finally finished. She waved her hand, first towards «Papa», then towards me.
"This is a 'Temporal Anomaly Patch' for the «Neuro-Linker»." She explained. "Simply put into words, since your «Neuro-Linker» is connected to your brain functions, it patches the «Neuro-Linker OS» so that if there are any changes within this timeline, this particular patch will fix them."
She pointed to her own «Neuro-Linker» and continued, "As the software itself came from me, the patch won't be affected by the timeline change. Furthermore, I trust that the «Safety Protocols» for «Neuro-Linker File Passing» successfully sent the files into your «Neuro-Linkers», correct?"
We both nodded. One of the «Neuro-Linker's many safety protocols» included «file passing filters». In particular, the «Neuro-Linker OS» is practically strict on files that you can send over a wireless network, especially to «complete strangers». In fact, «Brain Burst» cannot be sent over a wireless network for that sole reason alone: it contained many algorithms that was used to monitor your inner-most feelings and memories, which was one of the taboos in Neuro-Linker applications. So for a patch to be sent so easily…
"After the patch is applied, then we're going to start," she further explained.
«Papa» seemed to have installed the patch without being killed, so I guess I should too. I felt a bit of hysteria rushing through my veins as I pushed the Yes button that appeared. Unusually though, it only displayed a short progress bar. Unlike «Brain Burst», it didn't (and really shouldn't) display some extravagant notice of an installation complete. However, I do feel a slight vertigo from within me, although I can say that it was almost unnoticeable.
"Good," she let out a short sigh. "Time for a short demo."
Suddenly I felt it. The feeling of dissonance, piercing through my head. I saw an invisible wave passing through my head. It really didn't hurt, but it did made me a bit dizzy.
"«Kirito-san», «Kuroyukihime-san»," she suddenly asked. "What did I first say to «Kirito-san» when I first met him?"
"Guten… no isn't it 'Kirito-san, nice to meet you'?" somehow I understood what the patch did. "Wait, did you just change the timeline?"
"That's correct," she smiled. "Although it wasn't really much, anyway. This time, I told you: 'Guten Tag, «Kirito-san»'."
Somehow, I understood what exactly did the patch do to our perception. Back in the early 21st century, a man once predicted one of the prevailing theories regarding time travelling: ia timeline can be represented by a rotating fan; rotate it fast enough, and it'll look like it was going slowly. Following this principle, the patch did one simple thing to our «Neuro-Linkers»: it synchronized data and memories from the previous timeline rotation with the current timeline rotation, thus essentially making us resistant to timeline anomalies. With us resistant to timeline anomalies, it was certainly possible to keep utmost changes with before and after the change. For a function as useful as that, it was quite effective, but, it does have some rather, disturbing effects, judging from the dissonance I felt on the moment of change.
"Anyway," she started. "At least now I can talk to you, so that in case I get deleted from history you can still remember."
"I see," I questioned, "And I presume that this number right below the current time on my «Neuro-Linker» interface is…?"
She nodded, "It's the divergence meter. As you can see, it measures the deviation from the target timeline."
0.003412%. It definitely meant that someone's been trying to edit the timeline from its "supposed target." I still don't get its significance though. Why would she, I, or even «Papa», for that matter, be interested in changes in the timeline. In fact, why tell it at all? It's not like we can change anything if there would be a culprit that could jump into the past.
"Wait, do you mean…" I gasped.
The Haruyuki-kun lying on the bed, in a state of active comatose, hit an idea upon me. No, rather, she made it easy for me to connect the dots.
"In case any of you didn't get it," she said. "Haruyuki-kun, ie. Kuroyukihime-san's boyfriend, is trapped… or rather I trapped him in 2022, back to the world of SAO, through a certain «Neuro-Linker» item. If he dies there, well, there actually won't be any consequence, but if he does fail in his mission there, that divergence meter will go up to 20%, and instantly disintegrate this entire timeline. Well, it's not that big of a deal anyway, now that you're here…"
"Well, I should say rather," she pointed to «Papa». "You're my «backup plan»!"
I'm still not getting any picture here. For now it seems clear to me of «Sapphire Controller's» apparent full intentions. I call it 'apparent' because it's apparently her motivation. She wants to save this timeline, since, apparently, someone managed to jump into 2022 and tried… no, is trying to interfere with the events in Sword Art Online. For one, there is a lot of reasoning involved in avoiding this: for one, if «Kayaba Akihiko» were to be arrested before the final release of «Sword Art Online», it may permanently hamper any «VR progress». If any events in SAO were to be changed, it may as well result in the hero, «Kirito» to not be able to encounter and give a shortcut to «SAO's development», which is also a minus, as it was at the time when a certain someone was trying to transfer «SAO's entire populace» into experimentation by the old «RECTO Corporation». Either way, there should be simply no way to simply intervene in SAO's timeline without permanently taking away VR for good.
"Let's do this," she smiled, taking out an XSB cable out her left pocket.
"What are you…?"
She placed one of the ends in her own XSB cable, and reached out to Kazuto's «Neuro-Linker». I could definitely feel her enthusiasm, as if it was her first time linking with someone else, but that is besides the point. First, she sends a file wirelessly, and then through a linked cable – what is she thnking, exactly?
"Isn't it obvious?" she waved her finger. "I'm going to install «Brain Burst» in Kazuto Kirigaya."
[End of Part 1]
Well I'm going to change the distribution of new parts yet again. This time I'm going to simply publish new parts as I go along and just merge them at the end. I think it SHOULD work that way, so that I won't give you false chapter links. Anyway, the verdict is out! *flees*