8 - Reparations
I should get up.
I kinda need to use the bathroom. I’ll have to go eventually. But, at the same time, I really don’t want to get up. Hisao is so warm. His chest, with an old scar running across it, rises and falls slowly in slumber - and I can’t blame him for being so tired. I’m pretty tuckered out as well.
Still, as much as I just want to snuggle, my body demands otherwise. I carefully roll off of him, then grudgingly sit up on the side of the bed. I start by feeling around on the floor for my prosthetics. Once I put them on, I can begin the search for my clothes. I don’t need them all, just enough so that if anyone sees me, it’ll be weird instead of outright illegal.
Panties and a t-shirt will have to do. With a bit of a groan, I get up, step through the door to the hallway, quietly close it again, then walk towards the bathroom. My head’s still pretty sleepy, and I do my best to keep it that way - in a few minutes, I’ll be back in Hisao’s bed again, and I’d rather be able to fall right back to sleep when I do.
Once in the unfamiliar bathroom, I find the first stall, step inside, and sit down. Luckily, nobody else seems to be up at this hour - whatever hour it is - so I don’t have to worry about avoiding anyone. Or at least, that’s what I think until I hear the bathroom door open again.
My first thought is that it’s Hisao, and I consider saying something, but then realize that it could easily be anyone else who lives in this hall, and that saying anything would give me away. It’s probably better to remain quiet until I know more. Unfortunately, what I learn isn’t very pleasant.
It’s Hanako. I haven’t seen her since I spoke with the Director, more than a month ago. I was hoping that he had managed to rein her in, but apparently not. Still, with my brain reluctant to wake up any further, I decide to remain quiet. Maybe she’ll just go away if I ignore her.
“Come on, finish cleaning Hisao’s filth out of your cunt already!”
Eugh. I’m suddenly very glad that Hisao used protection. Regardless, it sounds like Hanako’s not about to leave any time soon, so I finish up and step out of the stall.
Surprisingly, Lilly is nowhere to be seen. Right now, we’re the only ones in the bathroom. It occurs to me that, as a result, I could probably fight her, but I’d really rather not. I just want her to go away.
“So, Emi, how does it feel to-”
“Can you just fucking not? I’ve already spoken with your father, and he’s on my side. All you can do is stand here and annoy me.”
My rebuttal catches her off guard for a moment, but then she develops an unsettling grin. “Well, I thought we could be civil, but evidently not. Oh well.”
While I try to figure out how she could possibly consider her earlier comments ‘civil’, she takes out a small black device, fiddles with it until it beeps, then looks at me. When I continue to look confused, she bursts into laughter.
“You’re completely oblivious! You have absolutely no idea what I just did!”
I sigh. “No, I don’t. Feel free to enlighten me.”
“It’s a killswitch!” Her grin grows wider. “Hisao’s killswitch, specifically.”
Adrenaline floods my veins, but within a second, I realize I’m overreacting. “Yeah, sure. Like I said, I talked to your father, and he vowed not to kill Hisao.” My voice wavers a little, but I try to ignore it.
I expect her to deflate, realizing I’ve called her bluff, but instead, she closes her eyes and clasps her hands together. “Oh Daddy, I’m ever so sorry. I know that you wanted all of these back, but I was afraid that Hisao would hurt me! I told you I had lost it, but instead, I kept it, just in case.”
My heart rate skyrockets. My fists clench. She’s lying, I tell myself. She has to be. But I remember that it beeped. It did something. And if anyone could keep one of those things hidden from the Director, it would be Hanako. I want so badly to just shrug it off, but it all seems to fall into place. And Hisao, who I was sleeping with only a minute ago...
“Please, Daddy, I’m so, so sorry.” She opens her eyes and smiles at me. “But not as sorry as poor little Emi.”
That’s it. Damn the consequences. If Hisao really is dead, then I won’t let it go unpunished. And if, by some miracle, he’s still alive, then at least I will have put this smug bitch in her place.
I charge forwards, lowering one shoulder, and hit Hanako square in the chest. The impact carries her backwards, into the bathroom door, which swings open as she hits it. She lands flat on her back in the hallway, with me on top of her. Looking down at her face, she’s absolutely terrified. Perfect.
I raise my right arm, ready to deliver the first in a long series of blows, but it catches on something. Before I can look up to figure out what it is, I feel myself being lifted off of Hanako, before getting thrown down the hallway and landing hard on the floor myself.
I look up just in time to see Lilly leaping onto me. I don’t even get a chance to react before I feel her twist my arms behind my back, as her weight pins me to the floor. I struggle vigorously, but remain held in place - she’s not only stronger than she looks, but heavier, too.
As I realize that there’s no easy way out of this position, Hanako gets up, obviously in a bit of pain. I consider it a momentary victory, but before long, she’s towering over me, her smile mocking me once more.
“See, I told you there was a reason we paid her so much.” She chuckles, then squats down to get closer to me. “I bet Hisao would’ve loved to spend his last moments with you. Oh well.”
As if I wasn’t angry enough already, her taunts only make it worse. I seethe for a few seconds before realizing that I don’t need to move in order to get back at her. “Hide behind your daddy’s fucking money all you want, it can’t fix those scars!”
It works, and her smile disappears. “W-What?”
“What, you thought we couldn’t tell? It’s obvious that you’re overcooked trash, just like your father!”
It feels incredible to put that much venom into my words, especially when her lips quiver, and she starts to stutter. “Sh-s-st-sh-SHUT UP!” She shakily swings one leg forward, kicking me in the shoulder.
It hurts, but I relish the sensation. I realize that we’re balancing on a jagged edge - just one push, and we’ll fall into madness. Will I survive? I hope not. That way, maybe I can see Dad and Hisao again. But I won’t know until I try. “But at least neither of you look as bad as your mother’s rotting corpse.”
I can see every muscle in Hanako’s body clench, and immediately I know that I’ve won. She can try to hold on, but it won’t be long until we both plummet. I relax, and try to enjoy the show. I’m distracted, however, when the door to my left opens. I stare, astonished, as Hisao emerges, wearing only his boxer shorts. “Emi, is that-”
He freezes. In fact, all of us do, though for different reasons. He’s just caught us all out of character. I just realized that I still have a reason to live. Lilly has been pretty stationary this whole time. And Hanako is the first to speak.
“WHAT!?” She pulls out the killswitch, and fiddles with it some more, until it beeps again. Hisao remains standing. She tries again, but still nothing. Frustrated, she throws it at Hisao, and he flinches as it bounces off his arm. “NO! NO! YOU SHOULD BE DEAD!” Still shaking, she pulls something else out from the waist of her skirt, and advances on Hisao while brandishing it.
I suddenly realize what it is, and what she’s doing - she’s going to kill Hisao the hard way. Desperate not to lose him after all of this, I try to warn him. “Hisao, run! She’s trying to-”
Before I can finish my sentence, Hanako’s arms are held behind her back by Lilly’s powerful grip, and the weapon I had been so worried about falls to the floor. It takes me a second to realize that Lilly is no longer pinning me down, and I start to get up.
Hanako, incapacitated, continues to yell at Hisao. “YOU FILTH! YOUR WORTHLESS FUCKING HEART!” Lilly presses something into Hanako’s neck. “YOU CAN’T LIVE RIGHT, YOU CAN’T LOVE RIGHT, AND- and, and y-ya-YOU CAN’T, can’t... you can’t...” She goes limp, slumping onto Lilly. And suddenly, the hallway feels very quiet.
Lilly picks Hanako up with surprising ease, then slings her over one shoulder. She stares at Hisao for a moment, then sighs. “I must say, Hisao: you have very strange dreams.” With that, she turns and leaves, carrying an unconscious Hanako with her.
Carefully, I get to my feet, and almost instinctively approach Hisao. I put one hand on his chest, to make sure I’m not dreaming, and then grab him in a hug. I feel like I should be crying, but I just feel exhausted. Hoping to right that, I look up at him. “Hey, we should get back to bed.”
I expect him to object, because he looks like he couldn’t sleep if he wanted to, but his reasoning surprises me. “You’re bleeding. Let’s get you cleaned up first, okay?” Sure enough, a small trickle of blood is running down my left arm. I feel like objecting, it’s basically nothing, and I just want to go to bed and worry about it in the morning, but the look in his eyes tells me that he won’t take no for an answer.
We go to the bathroom, and he treats the wound. The cold water wakes me up a bit. We go back to his room, where he insists on applying some antiseptic. The stinging from that wakes me up even more, and so by the time we lie down in bed, neither of us really feel tired. I realize, as we lie there, that we’re still dressed. Well, in some loose sense of the word. I consider rectifying that, but Hisao speaks before I get the chance.
“That... That wasn’t a dream, was it?”
“I...” I don’t know what to say. It clearly wasn’t. We’re both wide awake. He’d know I was lying. And yet, saying anything else would break the illusion. This whole show is built on the fact that he doesn’t know. On the plus side, I now know that he won’t be killed for finding out, but even so-
The only reason I know that voice is real is because it manages to surprise me. Evidently the Director is choosing for me - deep inside, though, I think it’s the same decision I would’ve made, eventually. “No. It wasn’t.”
His eyes widen a bit, but then he narrows them in confusion. “But then... That doesn’t make any sense. Lilly could see, and Hanako...” He trails off, but we both know what he means. She was completely different.
“Yeah. It’s... It’s very complicated.” I know that he won’t take that as an answer, though. “How about we take a walk? It’ll be easier to explain that way.”
“A walk? Won’t we get in trouble for being out after curfew?”
I’m confident that the Director will make sure we don’t run into anyone. “We won’t. I’m certain.”
Hisao seems unconvinced, but cautiously agrees. We get fully dressed, then head downstairs and outside, and start walking in whichever direction seems like a good one. It’s a bit chilly out, since it’s so late, but I take his hand, and suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad.
After what feels like a long silence, but is probably only a few seconds, I start my explanation. “This is going to sound kind of crazy. It... It is kind of crazy. But it’s the truth, and you deserve to know it.”
I look up at him, and he just nods in response. He’s ready to listen. Whether he’s ready for what I’m about to say, we’ll just have to find out.
“There was - is - a famous movie director. He wanted to make a new type of TV show, one that could really draw in an audience. He wanted an actor who had the most believable, realistic emotions possible. An actor that wasn’t really an actor - just a regular person.” Hisao looks confused, and I sigh. Here it comes. “You are that person, Hisao.”
This surprises him. “Me? But I’m not...” He searches for the right word. “I’m just a normal guy.”
“Exactly. This school is just a set. The students, the teachers, the nurses - all actors. Everything else is fake, but you’re real. You show real emotion, because you think it’s all real.”
He takes some time to think through this, but luckily, it doesn’t seem to bother him that much. “You mean that my life... is a TV show?”
“For as long as you’ve been at Yamaku, yes. Maybe a bit longer, but I’m not really sure.”
He chuckles. “Well, you’re right, it does sound pretty crazy. I mean, it certainly doesn’t feel like a show.”
“Yeah. A lot of people do a lot of work to make sure it doesn’t. Not for you, at least.”
He gives me a look of concern. “Are you sure you didn’t hurt your head?”
“Look, I know it’s hard to believe, but so was what happened back there with Hanako and Lilly, right? The reason they didn’t seem like themselves is because they aren’t - every time you’ve seen them before, they’ve been acting. Lilly isn’t even blind - she just wears blurry contacts.”
He rubs his chin. “I mean, yeah, that was really weird. But this is almost weirder.”
I sigh. I really should’ve thought about this conversation before I had it. Of course nobody’s going to believe that their whole life is a lie without some serious evidence. I can’t even use my earpiece as proof - saying that I hear voices in my head every day probably wouldn’t make me seem less crazy. I consider trying to show it to him, but that would be difficult, and I doubt it would be very convincing. Luckily, it’s still useful. “Give him the envelope.”
I had almost forgotten about that little envelope. I still keep it with me, tucked into one shoe. I guess now is the time. I kneel down, slip one shoe off, and retrieve the small paper rectangle. When I give it to Hisao, he looks at it strangely, then sniffs it. After a few seconds, though, he chuckles. “Oh, right, of course.”
He holds up the envelope. “It doesn’t smell like feet.”
Smell like... Well no, obviously not. I roll my eyes. “Just open it, already.”
He tears the paper on one side, then pulls out a folded piece of paper. As he unfolds it, however, his eyes go wide, and his jaw drops. “No way. That would be...” He closes his eyes for a moment, then looks at it again. “That’s impossible.”
“What is it?”
“It’s... It’s my first heart attack.”
Only now that I look at it a bit more do I realize that there’s something written on the back. “Turn it over, there’s more.”
He turns it around, and I can see now that the side he was looking at is a photograph. Two figures, standing in a snowy field, next to a tree. I’m not really sure what that has to do with heart attacks, but it clearly means something to Hisao. Apparently the words on the other side are meaningful too, as he reads them hurriedly. “No way. 4 p.m, just like...” He looks at me again. “That director, who did all of this - can you take me to him?”
“Yeah, if you want. He’s in the administrative building.” Although I don’t think he’s fond of unannounced guests, this is probably an exception he’s willing to make.
“Alright, then.” We start in that direction, but the cool night air bites at me again. I go to take Hisao’s hand, but he pulls it away. Confused, I look up at him for answers, and he sighs. “When you said that everyone here was an actor... That means you too, right?”
Oh no. “T-To begin with, yes. At some point, though, I realized that I wasn’t pretending to love you anymore.” He doesn’t object to that answer, but he doesn’t seem happy with it, either, and his hands remain at his sides. Neither of us say a word until we near the administrative building, and Hisao voices a concern.
“Won’t the building be locked, since it’s the middle of the night?”
As if answering his question, the doors make a loud ‘click’ as we approach them, and sure enough, they open easily. Puzzled, Hisao looks to me for answers. I just shrug. “He’s expecting us.”
I take Hisao through the door labeled “Yamaku Director”, then the one behind that, and he looks around in awe. The soft lights, the cool humidity, and the array of screens are all just as strange as the first time I was here.
And, just like that first time, a synthesized voice, emanating from the large chair in the middle of the room, speaks a single word. “Hisao.”
Hisao is surprised, as he’s never heard that voice before, but he manages to reply. “Yes?”
“Emi has already given you the general overview. I want to provide some specifics, and answer any questions you might have.”
“O-Okay, go ahead.”
There’s no hesitation in the Director’s voice. “As you may have gathered from that picture, your first encounter with this project began on that day in winter. The girl who confessed was a plant, and we chemically induced unconsciousness, so you could be taken to our facility. We gave you an implant which would mimic the symptoms of arrhythmia on command, then spent a few months testing things to make sure you were ready.”
“Your friends really did come to visit you, but we began to turn them away more and more, until we stopped allowing any visitors except your parents, who were involved. The girl who was with you for your heart attack was the hardest to stop - she had to be forcibly removed from the premises once or twice. After that, however, it was only a matter of time before you could be transferred to Yamaku, where everything in your new life would be recorded.”
Hisao seems rather distressed. Not enough to start acting on it, but certainly enough to worry me. The Director has been rather blunt so far, which isn’t helping.
“All of this was just for a show. A crazy idea from years ago. A project I couldn’t stand to let die. And for that, I want to be completely clear: I am sorry.”
The words catch both of us by surprise, and Hisao speaks. “What?”
“As the show began, I was only focused on a few narrow heuristics. I wanted particular things out of this program. But as it progressed, and I watched the way you were progressing, especially with Emi, I began to second-guess myself. Suddenly, I realized that I had made a terrible mistake, and that my prized creation was indeed an abomination.”
“The turning point came when my daughter - Hanako - tried to convince Emi that you would be killed at the end of the year. Emi frantically began to look for a way to defeat your implant, and thus free you from this place. Eventually, thoroughly impressed with her motivation and tenacity, I called her here and spoke with her. She made me promise not to hurt you. And, thanks to her, I understood why I shouldn’t.”
Hisao looks at me, bewildered. I blush, and avert my eyes for a moment. When I look back, he’s holding out one hand to me, and I gladly take it. Just like before, it drives away the cold.
“I set out to capture raw emotion. It was only after seeing that emotion, in the places I least expected, that I realized why this project couldn’t continue. The emotions themselves were the very reason I couldn’t capture them. And, once more, I am sorry that such a realization required you to sacrifice so much. However, I am willing to try and make things right. To that end, I have a question for you, Hisao.”
Hisao nods. “Go ahead.”
“Are you willing to remain on the show, until this school year is complete? You would have to act, at least in public, as if you still knew nothing about all of this.”
Once again, Hisao and I are both caught off guard. He opens his mouth to reply, but stops, and rubs his chin. After a bit of thinking, he asks his own question. “If I say no, then what happens?”
“I would let the both of you go. The show, and its actors, would have to make do with whatever it already has. I can't guarantee that I’ll be able to help you once you leave, though.”
“But if we stay, you’d help us?”
“Correct. I would ensure that you both have more than enough money to live off of for the next few years, and that you could get into a university. This would also be preferable for the other actors, many of whom are relying on the continuation of this show as a source of income until the end of the school year.”
Hisao closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, then opens them again. “In that case, I only have one more concern.” He turns to look at me, and squeezes my hand. “Emi, are you up for the rest of the year?”
I smile, and squeeze his hand in return. “Of course.”
“Alright then.” He looks back at the chair behind the desk. “Mr. Director, sir, I’ll gladly take you up on your offer.”