11: Marii in the Background

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Qualia the Purple

Arc 1: Various Notes on Marii

Chapter 11: Marii in the Background

There was something of a hill along the path from my house to Marii's, and from the top of that hill I could not only gaze down at Yukari's house in the town below, but also could find some shady areas under some trees where I could rest. It was a spot I had taken quite a liking to.

When I went over to Yukari's house to hang out, whether I planned to or not, I would always be sure to pause atop that hill and take a look.

Sometimes, Yukari came out into the garden and watered the grass, or made plastic models, or repaired some electronics, or played with her siblings. There were times when I just sat there and watched her.

...... This all might make me sound like a bit of a stalker.

But, seeing her down there really soothed my soul.

I dunno, but seeing a small little thing down there darting to and fro just gave me a warm feeling inside.

Okay, granted, I knew that this was more of an excuse, and I knew all too well that what I was doing wasn't exactly looked kindly upon by society, so when I went up that hill today and saw that there was already someone there, I got this irritating, hard-to-describe feeling of shame in my gut and the urge to run away welled up inside me.

Unfortunately, the person who was already there noticed me before I could run off, and called out to me.

"Hey, Bobby."

"Don't call me Bobby. You're the only one who calls me that... Tenjou."

It would be rather pointless to hide at this point, so feeling rather resigned, I pushed my bicycle up to Tenjou and stood next to her.

Ugh, what the hell was she doing here?

When I looked down at Yukari's house, I saw her in the garden working on her bicycle.

Today, we were planning to ride our bicycles together.

When I saw her down there wearing a smile from ear to ear and spinning the back wheel of her bicycle (which was standing upside down on the ground), I felt my own cheek muscles relax, but then when I remembered that Tenjou was right next to me, I hurriedly focused myself again.

... Was Tenjou being in my favorite spot a complete coincidence?

Or maybe she knew about me and this spot already?

Well, it was certainly a very nice spot, so it could be that Tenjou also occasionally came up here to look down at Yukari's house.

In that case, I might have just not noticed her here before, but she might've seen me up here quite a few times already, and might have seen me staring down at Yukari's house quite a few times as well... When I thought about that possibility, I suddenly felt really awkward and glared at Tenjou. But when I saw her face, I couldn't bring myself to say anything.

As she was looking down at Yukari's house, Tenjou just looked... lonely.

It was like I was looking at a child who was about to break out in tears at a moment's notice.

Before I could stop myself, I blurted something out curtly.

"Just make up with her already."

"......... Eh?"

"I have no idea what happened between you and Yukari, but... it's just a waste for you to just keep dragging this out."

Yukari and Tenjou used to be on quite good terms, it seemed.

But, Yukari did something and now they were estranged from each other.

To be precise, Tenjou now considered Yukari an enemy.

Girls tended to turn something small into an argument and then drag that argument out for a long time... I wasn't completely innocent of this either, but even then I can't say I understood what Tenjou felt here.

I felt that in most cases, Tenjou didn't seem like she genuinely hated Yukari, but rather just refused to be honest with herself.

But, sometimes the expressions I saw on Tenjou's face completely betrayed that interpretation.

At those times, Tenjou would glare at Yukari as if she was confronting her mortal enemy, and would reject Yukari as if she had just come face-to-face with a monster.

At those times, her look was clearly one of hatred.

I was still a child, but even I could tell; at those times I was looking at a severe, intense, fervent sense of purpose.

Exactly what had happened for Yukari to deserve to be on the receiving end of such negative emotions? I really couldn't even imagine.

We were looking at the same "Yukari" down there, but could it be that Tenjou and I saw different things...?

Tenjou muttered.

"Hatou... you... you still don't understand, do you?"

"That again? Exactly what about Yukari do you think I don't understand?"

"Have you ever heard the phrase 'philosophical zombie'?"

".......... Huh?"

Those words had come out of the blue, and I was taken off guard for a moment.

Tenjou gave me a rather dry smile and continued.

"To put it simply, a philosophical zombie can look at an apple and know that it's red, but cannot feel it. That’s my understanding, at least."

"Okay..."

"You can't tell if someone's a philosophical zombie or a human based on their appearance or actions... and don't take the word 'zombie' too seriously. I'm not talking about the walking corpse kind of zombie here. These zombies can express emotions just fine. They can laugh, can cry, can get angry, and when they see an apple they can talk about how red and delicious it looks.

However, they do not feel that the apple is red or delicious.

And that is because they do not have a grasp on any concrete, emotional image of what 'redness' or 'deliciousness' means.

... For example, when we see something delicious we begin to salivate. That's because we know from experience what it means for something to be delicious. But philosophical zombies will salivate only because they know about deliciousness as just another piece of knowledge. They don't feel that the apple looks delicious, but just know that it does... the outwards result is the same, but there is still a huge difference here, no?"

"...... So, are you saying that Yukari is like that?"

Hearing my words, Tenjou chuckled and nodded.

"Well, she doesn't fit the precise definition of a philosophical zombie, but relatively speaking doesn't it make sense? After all, we can never share the experiences that Marii's eyes give to her. If we're talking about Marii alone, then she might not be a philosophical zombie, but as people who can never see the same things she can, who can never feel the same things she can, who can never experience 'redness' or 'deliciousness' in the same way she can, doesn't that make her something like a philosophical zombie to us, and vice versa...?

Did you know? Marii can't really distinguish between humans and plastic models."

I saw tears pooling up in Tenjou's eyes.

Those tears started to drip quietly from her eyes, but Tenjou didn't even seem to notice and just continued.

"Well, no, putting it like that is unfair... yes, she sees other humans as robots, and yes she can tell the difference between the human robots and the plastic model robots. However... she doesn't see the difference between humans and plastic models. To her, the difference lies only in a difference of size, height, intricacy, whether the robot can act independently or not... it doesn't go any deeper than that. Is something organic or not, living or dead... she doesn't make the distinction! These differences might be obvious to us, but she doesn't see them... she can't! To her, humans, electrical appliances, plastic models... they might have different abilities and purposes and complexities, but they're all the same! She sees us exactly the same as she sees plastic models!"

Tenjou seemed to be getting agitated as her voice grew louder and louder. I looked her straight in the face.

"So... that's how you see things."

"Huh?"

"But... can't you see it the other way around?"

"... Other way around?"

Yes, the other way around, I muttered to myself in my mind.

Everything that Tenjou had just said, I had already realized myself.

I had already realized that if you took the argument to the extreme, it was possible that Yukari saw us as no different from plastic models.

But, that's precisely why I wanted to believe that the opposite of what Tenjou was implying was true.

I averted my gaze from Tenjou and looked down at the houses below.

I saw Yukari down there, wearing working gloves and happily servicing her bicycle.

She had named her bicycle "Silver," and she told me that ever since she had gotten Silver as a present for entering elementary school, they had always been together.

She herself installed her own training wheels, took them off later, adjusted the saddle higher when she grew, reinforced the body of the bicycle, changed out the tires and the chain... she had upgraded and remodeled it many a time, so that even now that she was in junior high she still considered it precious and used it frequently. Her bicycle was her beloved partner.

Yes... it was the opposite.

It wasn't that Yukari considered us to be the same as plastic models or electrical appliances.

Rather, Yukari considered plastic models or electrical appliances to be human. And so she held them all as precious. And so she had so much fun taking care of them. She didn't see humans the same as plastic models, but rather, she saw plastic models the same as humans.

Was I just arguing semantics?

Perhaps.

But, even so, in the end, even if the end result was the same, I had the feeling that those two situations were completely different...

I looked at Tenjou, and saw her staring straight down at Yukari's house as if her eyes had been glued fixed.

So, I quietly began to push my bicycle away from her.

"...... Anyways, just do what you want, Tenjou. I've said what I wanted to say."

I straddled my bicycle saddle, when I heard Tenjou speak to me again.

"Hatou. You... if you plan on being with that girl from now on, you'll soon realize exactly how terrifying she is. Exactly how fundamentally different she is from us. And when that happens, I'm sure you'll also... this is a warning, okay? Take it however you wish."

"I see. Thanks for that then. See you later."

I said farewell one more time and began to pedal, not looking back.

I stopped my bicycle in front of Yukari's gate and went around to the garden.

"Wah. Gaku-chan, good morning! You're early today. Sorry, just wait a little bit more? I'll be done in just a bit."

Yukari began to go get her siblings to bring us some tea, but I waved her off, telling her not to worry about me. I plopped myself down on the porch.

Then, watching her back as she oiled her bicycle, I suddenly had an urge to ask.

"Hey, Yukari."

"Hm?"

"... Me or your bicycle. Which do you like better?"

"Wah? Eh, wah, wah, wah?"

".............. Ah, nevermind. It's fine. Just forget I said anything."

Yukari was clearly startled as she went wah, wah, wah, like a broken record player, so I quickly waved my hand in reassurance and tried to defuse the situation. I took my other hand and lightly put it over top my rather plain chest.

... Ugh, that definitely was a shock to the heart.

Well, whatever. She's been together with Silver since elementary school, after all, so I guess it can't be helped... yeah, but this battle was far from over.

I looked up at the hill, towards the other side which was hidden from view.

As if I'll l lose to you, I thought.

Three days from then, on Saturday morning, I saw on the news that the new suspect in the Tokyo Dismemberment Murder had killed a detective and was currently running from the authorities.

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TRANSLATOR’S NOTES

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