Well this is it for Sterile. For any interested there will be a sequel titled coming up in a few weeks. Thanks for reading. KS
Epilogue: for real's this time
You have mail
It was a dated cry, reminiscent of computer generations ago. Literally though it was one generation back... well half of one. But electronically speaking that was old school, and beyond. Still, he was drawn to the archaic, and after a few sake's in the World had been feeling... well not tipsy since that wasn't possible. But there was sleep deprivation to consider, and the worries and the stressing coming and going had loosened his tongue to confess that he'd heard about it, and was interested. So, all bemused, Lios had indulged his fancy with the dated. One flashmail later and through a little installation of a trigger and an mp3 sound bite and... Well he had it. That call, linked to his mail, and it greeted him every time he opened his mail considering how busy his account was. Fan mail, most of it, and experience taught him to junk ninety percent of it. The more incoherent ten percent he saved, occasionally reading those to Orca and they'd both share a good laugh over the... well bubbly, babbling jammed into the letter.
Not exactly nice of them, but still, some of the stuff was out and out hilarious, and he couldn't help himself. So he saved the juicer bits, stuffed them in a side folder, and read the important mails from work. One forum, a few from Lios enlightening him on the technical and boring slant of computer based investigations. He'd have printed the later most of those work mails, but the text docs were protected, another effort to keep what was confidential confidential. After all, no way for the company to keep a lid on information that was printed, no way at all. Two party invites, (both by 'Mary, those he deleted with a shudder) party invite reminders (same source, disposed of just as fast as the original invites had been), and when everything was cleaned out he smiled.
It was so nice to have everything in its place, and put away, very nice after all.
Staring at the blue of CC Corps standard desk top he stared at each logo, the top most tempting him. Tempting so badly.
"Satoshi, get off the bloody computer, we're going to be late!" Father roared from the stair well.
Late to where, you might ask? To another outing, some intellectual fiasco that he'd managed to skip out on the surprise of earlier... revelations. Now that the surprise had worn off he was conscripted to go out on a different day, the same place, but a different day. And right after school, on a work night no less.
All in all it was a rather transparent ploy, one that hinted almost at torture. Get him up early, keep him going all day, than let him try to honor a promise that would keep him up well past midnight. A promise that would require the full extent of his capabilities to muddle through. One that couldn't be put off.
Three, maybe four, one was too many...
In that he and Lios felt the same, and that would be enough. Lios would be sympathetic to this, would have to be considering that "this" was in fact his everyday real life now. As for what the adolescent who was sometimes known as the Azure Sky, all he could do was blunt the damages. And towards that end he'd done what he could. A quick cat nap at lunch, another in history, and he was reasonably refreshed. Enough to get through whatever "enlightenment" his parents loved to inflict, and perhaps with luck he'd snatch another nap in the car before they got there and that should carry him through to the early morning hours his duty inflicted on him.
So hoping on luck, not really expecting it but trying to be optimistic, he smoothed his best clothes in place with a weary hand and stood. For now he'd leave temptation behind. With a twiddle of his fingers he confirmed than changed his password. That done, he powered the unit down. Watching its lights dim he reflected on the fact that he was always changing his password. At every log out he tweaked the lock as it were, a security measure demanded from him by the corporation that was pitting itself against a slew of hackers.
God help us all if they get into my computer.
His thought sounded almost alien to him, but it wasn't, it was familiar, and he cursed knowing the source. The last was nearly Balmung like, in tone and cadence, no, not nearly, it was. And to that little revelation Satoshi shook his head. Using the small motion to better drive the ghost out, for Balmung was never unsure, never hesitated, and certainly never conceded he was wrong…. Balmung was already taking too much of his time, he wouldn't let a figment of his (and honestly -considering the raw amount of fans Balmung was nearly a celebrity online and off- the public's imagination) take over his life. And, though he knew the tone, and the cadence, he had to wonder. Who were "they" the hackers, or his mother and father?
Mercifully that internal voice that spoke truth more often than not was silence. Clearly there were areas best left alone and depths best left unplumbed.
There were truths best left unknown. So Lios had mourned, third cup in. Spoken in tones so heartfelt Bal- Satoshi had to wonder if the man was sipping some real vodka in the Real to match what he downed in the World. If he did, reasonable enough, just thinking about what was going on made him wish he was of age. He'd have nipped to the nearest bar and taken a few himself. After the meeting of course. Even now the temptation to block it out either chemically or... well by being ignorant again... hung about him. He could, and Lios had mentioned it sixteen times that day, back out. Better for him if he did. Safer for him if he did.
Because if he didn't... Well he hadn't, and he'd been sworn to secrecy (a vow he'd taken, quieter than his other vow but no less fervent) fully knowing that CC Corp would claim his coma/death unrelated to the game. There would be no medical coverage for him as his "injury" wasn't "work related". He'd be severed from said company, his PC wiped out via a virus inserted with the sound bite clip. He hadn't been thrilled to know about that right at first. After his second cup though he'd admitted that the company had had a point, if he wasn't around his computer was little more than junk anyways. Anyways Lios had promised up and down to remove the dormant virus if things turned out OK but leave the clip in. Satoshi really liked that sound clip. Balmung as the character data would cease to exist, one breath of virus on him and he'd be wiped clean assuming that he was a spreader of said virus.
Which meant, look but do not touch. Satoshi had laughed when Lios had put it that way. And despite the grim slant of their topic, well Lios had finally smiled after a night of scarcely smiling at all. Over all, it wasn't as bad as it could have been, and that was good enough for now.
"Satosi, get your tail down here!" Father snarled. "Or I swear I'll come up and drag you down, we're going to be late."
You would think, Satoshi mused as he pushed in the chair, unplugging his computer, than turned to leave after all his tidying chores were done, that being late was one of the darkest sins. Tardiness, from father's tone alone, was comparable to murder, or rape, or torment, or some other crime beyond naming. Checking a sigh (too Balmung like that, and if he indulged that much he'd say something sharp and to the point that lateness wasn't so dire a sin the world and World would end because of it) Satoshi squared his shoulders and after opening the door began his descent into more normal things. Despite how much he really didn't want to, to descend, or confront normal, or anything of the like.
In one world, I'm a warrior, one with wings, with a blade drawn from heaven's watery arch. I wield that blade in justice's name, righting wrongs, seeking flaws in the flawless. I make the World a better place just be being... and that was enough.
In the other, the Real, I'm constantly faced with my own flaws. Unable to correct, merely given enough to endure rebuke, I go on winding the same circles hoping for a breakthrough. Or perhaps a savior. Because every time I try to save myself I'm stopped at every turn and sent back to that circle, my burden heavier than before.
Thinking those thoughts, mulling on the juxtaposition of his roles, he joined mother and father without saying a word, not even to apologize for his latest transgression. That set father off, but honestly he didn't hear it. Didn't care. Closing his eyes, he endured as best he could, holding to his silence. Already tired and worn and horribly aware that this wasn't the end, it was the start that he hadn't even started yet.
The first step is the hardest.
It better be, else he was in another circle, one that wound down into hell. With all the good intentions in the world driving him on, he was dangerously close to living out that cliché...
And falling by it.
"Let's just go already, so we aren't late." Satoshi suggested.
Hardly placated, father shelved his frustrations for the time being if only to drive them faster. To where, who cared? They were going, and for now that's all that seemed to matter to him. Going out, away from the World, if pushing would have done so, he'd have shoved his son so hard and fast he'd have bruises to show for it.
Knowing that, and enduring, Satoshi submitted, for now.