6: Death and the Nature of Light

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Qualia the Purple

Arc 2: 1/1,000,000,000th of a Kiss

Chapter 6: Death and the Nature of Light

In mid-August, around when Obon had just passed, I received a phone call from Yukari's mother and learned of her death.

She told me that Yukari had gotten involved with some kind of experiment.

That the accident had been so bad that the entire facility had suffered damage, and that only a bit of her remains had been recovered.

That the state of affairs had been so awful that they had taken it upon themselves (even if they were overstepping their bounds) to cremate Yukari's remains. This was all told to Yukari's parents by a (Japanese) representative of Jaunt. He had brought a small urn with him.

I didn't really know all the details, but apparently the representative told Yukari's parents that the specifics of the accident she had gotten caught up in were classified, and so he couldn't divulge anything more.

Yukari's parents were shocked, and began to shed tears.

Yukari's mother and siblings completely lost their cool and shouted angry abuse at the Jaunt representative."Yukari hadn't even been gone for half a year, and this?!" they lamented.

Yukari's father just stood there quietly and asked questions.

He wanted more details of what had happened. He wanted to properly grasp the situation.

Experiment? What kind of experiment were they conducting? There were children there, so what happened to the safety response teams? State secret? Duty of confidentiality? What happened to our rights? What happened to the faith we placed in you when we entrusted our child to you? If you don't answer my questions, I'll show you something...

For those of us who knew about Yukari's eyes, we didn't have to be grieving parents to think that the circumstances surrounding her death were suspicious.

For me, I just stood there in a daze and my mind went completely blank.

Maybe they expected this, or maybe they knew that despite his retirement Yukari's father still had quite a lot of pull within the National Police Agency, but Jaunt ended up giving Yukari's father permission to go inspect their organization. They didn't have to, but they just wanted to show their sincerity. And they prefaced this by saying that if he saw what they were talking about, he would also probably realize the gravity of the situation.

Yukari's funeral was a subdued affair and happened in her home.

Everyone else who came was an adult; there were policemen and important politicians, but I was the only child in attendance.

Nanami hadn't even been invited, let alone any of Yukari's former classmates.

Now that I thought about it, it was possible that Yukari's parents knew about the trauma that Nanami had suffered in the past. And they might've also known that after Yukari transferred away, Nanami was finally managing to get back on her feet. So they didn't inform Nanami of the funeral.

I didn't consider that cold.

In fact, I honestly couldn't care less about Nanami at the moment.

I didn't even have the time to realize that Nanami wasn't present at the funeral, let alone worry about it. No, I just stood there in a daze, in the midst of all these adults who were standing stock still in their black clothes. It was almost like I was lost in a desolate forest in winter.

I remember standing in front of the coffin, which had been placed upon a plain, unadorned stand, and thinking about how Yukari's remains couldn't possibly be in there.

Everything in my field of view washed over me in monotone blacks and whites as I just idly gazed staight ahead.

And then... I saw a flash of gold in a corner of my eye.

Anything gold would immediately stand out in the middle of this world of black and white, and so I couldn't help but turn towards the flash, and it dawned on me rather slowly that the gold I saw had been the color of someone's hair.

Ahh, that head of hair seemed familiar for some reason...

She might've seemed completely different in that set of black clothes and with her blonde hair tied up like that, but there was no mistaking it. That was the girl who had taken Yukari away...

"...... Alice?"

My voice was as hushed as a whisper, but the blonde-haired girl whipped her head around to look at me with the force of a slingshot.

Her eyes met mine.

Her eyelids were swollen, and as I looked into those muddied, glassy eyes of her I could find none of the grand luster that I had seen there before.

Before I could say a single word, Alice turned her face around and also began to quickly walk away.

Her back was to me now, almost as if she was trying to escape from my gaze, and she quickly disappeared past the other end of the hallway.

Before I realized it, I had broken out into a run after her.

I didn't care that people were looking at me now. I ran through the hallway and exited out the front door.

Even though we were having a funeral inside, the sun was shining in the sky outside. I felt myself grow dizzy for a moment.

But despite my efforts, I didn't see Alice anywhere near me. I looked all around me, before spying a slender black car parked on a road quite far from Yukari's home.

Alice was just opening the car door.

"Alice!"

I saw her body jolt, so there was no way she didn't hear me.

But she didn't even try to look in my direction and stepped into the car, closing the door behind her.

The windows on the car were tinted, so I couldn't see Alice's face.

I ran towards the car.

The car's engine roared to life and the car began driving away, but I didn't stop.

I glared at the sight of the car retreating farther and farther away from me, but I kept running.

I felt a sharp pain in my foot as I stepped on the small pebbles in the road, and I realized I wasn't wearing any shoes... I had rushed out of the funeral in my socks. But still, I didn't stop.

The black car soon completely disappeared from my view, and I suddenly felt my legs, and then my entire body begin to shake.

I collapsed down onto the ground.

And finally, I realized that I was crying.

The tears... they just wouldn't stop.


Alice had run away. Run away from me.

That Alice, the one who had called me a commoner and who would take on the entire world before backing down.

That Alice, the one who had told me I couldn't protect Yukari, who had criticized me for my weakness.

That Alice, who had boasted that she and her organization could protect Yukari.

She had run away from me.

I gripped my fists tight in fury.

But the reason my gripped fists were trembling was not due to rage or anger, but due to suspicion.

Why did she run? Why would someone with as much pride as Alice run?

Why? Why would she scurry away like a little rat from me?

Had she done something worth hiding? Did she fail at protecting Yukari? She was going on and on with that big mouth of hers about how great she was, but did she let Yukari die? She was supposed to be Yukari's friend, wasn't she? So as Yukari's friend, had she done something she wasn't proud of?

If she hadn't, why would she have run out of Yukari's funeral?

If I had just been thinking a bit more calmly, I might've realized that no matter how much she acted like an adult, no matter how much of a genius she was, Alice was still a child.

And in that case, it wouldn't be strange for her to refuse to face me and to run away.

But I needed some basis for fighting against a reality that I did not want to believe.

If I couldn't cling onto something here, I felt I would go insane.

So, I came to my own conclusion.

Alice had run away because she had done something shady.

Maybe... maybe Yukari's death hadn't been an accident.

I didn't have any solid proof, and I was going off pure emotional logic right now, but I clung desperately to this conclusion. I needed it. I needed something to fill this white, blank space in my head. I couldn't think at all right now, so I needed these burning emotions to help fill the blanks. I needed a goal.

And suddenly, I found my excuse for turning my back on a reality that I did not want to face. I felt a strange sense of satisfaction as these new thoughts formed.

If you want to run, then run, Alice.

Because I won't let you get away.

If you had a dark role to play in all this, then I'll chase you until I uncover the truth.

The sadness and despair can come after that.

"I'll definitely find Alice again. And she'll answer my questions. If she's not in Japan anymore, then I'll chase her all the way to America."

I mumbled idly, and another me responded.

"Yeah. But no, it's not just you who'll be chasing her. And it's not just me. It'll be us."

"Yes. Us. We will chase her."

"... Yes. And we will catch her."

After consulting with another me, I first went to Yukari's father.

I asked him to bring me along with him when he went to inspect Jaunt.

Of course, that would mean I would have to take a break from school.

Yukari's father was reluctant. My parents also didn't seem too fond of the idea. Being absent from school was not a good thing... and in the worst case scenario it might affect my exams scores too. My parents thought I had been studying for exams this entire time, so I couldn't blame them for thinking that way.

But I didn't back down.

Every single day, I barged into Yukari's home and made another direct appeal. I knew Yukari better than anyone, I would assert without a hint of shame in my voice. I would almost imply that Yukari and I had some secret agreement before she died (unfortunately, there was nothing of the sort). I would act as if I had taken on fulfilling Yukari's last requests and knew something about her death (of course I didn't, but I firmly believed that there was something strange about all this). I tried every single possible thing I could think of and begged him to take me along. I even implicitly threatened him. I even told them about how my left hand had now become a cell phone (of course, I couldn't offer any proof of that, so I'm rather doubtful that they believed me).

Yes, I tried every single possible method within reach.

The deciding blow came when I went out and got the paperwork for obtaining a passport.

I thrust that application in my own parents' faces and asked for their signature. And then I told them. Told them that if Yukari's father wouldn't take me along, then I would just go without anybody looking over me. That if they thought I was bluffing, then they would regret underestimating me. I would try every single thing I could to get over there, and I would never give up.

I always had a reputation for being stubborn, so my parents finally caved and went with me together to ask Yukari's father to take me along.

And thus, I was finally able to plot a path towards Jaunt.

How should I tell the next part of this story? It's rather difficult.

Well, maybe I should start from what happened.

Jaunt paid travel expenses for not only Yukari's parents, but for me as well, and even prepared a plane for us.

And soon we were flying away from Japan.

Our airplane soared through the night sky.

... and exploded above the Pacific Ocean.

Just before I died, I remember seeing the oxygen masks that had dropped from the ceiling, and the worried eyes of Yukari's mother as she looked back at me from the seat ahead.

But also... there was the faintly glowing display on my left hand.

And then, suddenly, my body was engulfed in scorching white...

I jumped to my feet in the midst of darkness.

I felt myself jolted awake by intense fury.

Yes, my anger was stronger right now than the shock of being killed. I couldn't feel anything else but rage.

I didn't believe for a millisecond that what had happened had been an accident.

To think they would blow up an entire airplane, I thought to myself.

Yes. In order to avoid an inspection, and in order to tie up any loose ends, Jaunt had done away with Yukari's family. They didn't even care that I had been on board, or about any of the other passengers, and had made it look like an airplane accident.

It was a terrifying thought, but it wasn't out of the question considering they were an organization that raised children who were going around calling other people "commoners."

And if they had all these geniuses in their organization, then something like this certainly was within their capabilities...

They were demons. The lot of them.

But this made up my mind.

Jaunt was evil.

Yukari's death was also definitely not an accident; she was killed. By Jaunt.

And either way, they had killed me and Yukari's family too. They had probably tried to make Yukari do something, but Yukari had refused, and then...

"... Huh?"

I suddenly looked around.

This was...... my room? What?

I was lying down on my futon... but why? I was on the plane just a minute ago, right? Yes... I was on the plane... and then the plane started shaking suddenly...

Had that all been a dream?

And why was I so hungry?

I got out from under my futon and before I realized it I was reaching for my sweets. I opened the lid on a box of caramels while checking the date on the digital calendar atop my desk.

Yes... today was the day I was supposed to go with Yukari's parents to America, and right now I should've been on a plane...

"Wait, what in the world am I saying?"

I mumbled to myself as I fished through my head and finally remembered what was happening.

I had gone up to Yukari's parents and begged them to cancel their inspection.

Yukari's parents were pretty reluctant, but I was desperate. I told them to leave everything to me. I told them that I had some secret collaborators who could help me investigate what had happened, and so I begged them to call their trip off.

And after all that, what was the most unbelievable was that Yukari's parents agreed to trust me.

So of course we weren't on the plane. Of course nobody had died.

Ahh, this... this world is...

The cell phone in my left hand rang and I picked up the phone while chewing on a caramel.

"Hello?"

The me on the other line sounded like she was gasping for breath.

"Um, umm... hello?! Sorry for calling you so late. Were you asleep?"

"Nah. But just like me, this is probably your second call for the day, so I think it's best we keep this quick."

"W-Well, okay, then... did you feel it?"

"Yeah," I nodded.

Our memories were already shared at this point, so we understood each other, and understood what had happened.

"What happened back there... that was a different world where a different me had gone on the trip."

"Or a possibility where I had gone on the trip."

That had not been a dream. That had actually happened.

But it had not been determined.

It was born as a possibility and died as one, in a parallel world.

"So... we're the ones who are in the worlds where we didn't go on the inspection?"

"Yeah. There are probably some minor differences between your world and mine, but I think you're right. Sorry... I'm getting a bit dizzy. You must be too, right? You should probably go eat something. I'll do that too."

"Y-Yeah, you're right. Goodbye then..."

The call ended, and I popped a second caramel into my mouth. As I crushed it with my teeth, I felt my lips twist.

That me who had died was me, but the me right here was also me.

So... exactly who was I?

But that wasn't what was important right now... there was something more important here, right now.

I couldn't hold it in anymore as I began to laugh.

"... Jaunt is just really bad news. They blew up an entire airplane just to kill us? I mean, come on, that's... that's just way too..."

I listened to myself cower on the other end before responding with a smirk.

"Yeah. You're right. Our opponent is powerful here. Now that I think back on it, Alice was going on and on about changing the world or some dangerous stuff like that, right? No... don't get me wrong. I don't think Alice did this. But they're the ones who planted thoughts like that into the heads of children like Alice, right? Isn't that just brainwashing? It's really hard to forgive myself for not realizing this back then."

"I agree. But that's not what's important right now."

"Indeed." I let out a laugh. "I admit that Jaunt is a powerful organization. They blew up an entire airplane, after all. I wouldn't think a small girl like me in junior high would ever be able to do anything against them."

After I spoke, the other me continued.

"But, I am not alone."

"An infinite number of me's are following along."

"In an infinite number of parallel worlds, through an infinite number of possibilities..."

"Do you remember what Tenjou told us before about the nature of light? What was it again? Fermat's Theory?"

"No no. Fermat's Principle. The idea that if light needs to traverse the space between two points, it will always take the path amongst all possible paths that takes the shortest amount of time."

It might sound a bit strange, but the nature of light made it so that when light had to get anywhere, it always chose the quickest path to get there.

If there are no obstacles in its path, then obviously the light would just go straight - that was the quickest path, after all.

But if there was water or atmosphere or gravity or any other obstacles in its path, then it was a different story.

For example, the speed of light in air was different from the speed of light in water.

Light moved more slowly in water, so when light had to travel through water, then going straight would force it to be in the water for a long time. Because of that, light would choose a bent trajectory. It would try to minimize the distance it had to travel through water, while still not taking any extra time in air. That was its quickest route.

To make an analogy, you could think of the water as a road backed up with traffic.

So even though it might be the shortest path, nobody wanted to just sluggishly chug forwards on a congested road. They would rather look for as many uncongested detours as possible. However, if they picked too many detours and looped all the way around, then they would end up taking more time and that would be counterproductive. So, they needed to avoid the traffic jam as much as possible while not taking too many detours, and find that route with just the perfect balance. Light was a master at using that method.

That was what was known as Fermat's Principle.

The strange thing about this principle was that it was almost as if light knew the destination point it was shooting for beforehand.

It went way deeper than that; it was almost like no matter what kind of obstacle or medium it had to traverse, light knew exactly how it would bend and attack each new object in its way, and it would ultimately choose the path that would bring it to its destination in the shortest time.

When the light began its journey, if it didn't know where all the roads were and where all the traffic jams were, then it shouldn't be able to pick the quickest route.

And yet, light would instantaneously find that route.

Why was light able to do that...?

Nanami had explained.

"Quantum physicists think the following: it's not that light is only taking the quickest route when it's trying to go from A to B, but it actually simultaneously takes every possible route between A and B. However, for every route other than the quickest route, the light rays interfere with each other and cancel each other out. So, in the end, only the light which took the quickest route is left. That's why it seems like light is always taking the fastest path between two points.

Yes. Because light is also a type of quantum, and can exhibit properties of both waves and particles."

That's why a ray of light could interfere with its own many possibilities, or with many parallel worlds.

It didn't know beforehand what path it was going to take to its destination, but as a quantum, it would simultaneously take every single path, and then ultimately only the correct, quickest path would be left.

That was the nature of light when described quantum mechanically.

"Do you understand?"


"All I have to do is to think about reaching Alice."


Yes.

I just had to become like light.

Just like light, I had to fixate on finding the fastest path between me and Alice.

If I did that, then every single me would be looking for Alice. Every single me in every single world would want to find her. And no matter how powerful and terrifying Jaunt was, it wouldn't matter anymore. Because I had as my ally all the infinite possibilities, all the infinite parallel worlds. And all the me's out there could mutually interact through this cell phone.

"This shouldn't be that difficult. After all, it's not like light understands Fermat's Principle or how to solve Feynman path integrals. Light is just light. And that's all it has to be to find the quickest path to its destination. So I shouldn't think too hard about this either. I had to think only about reaching my goal. That's what I had to become. And if I did that, then someday, one of the infinite me's will have to find the right answer... and then only the right answer will be left."

"Just like how now, only the me's that didn't die in that plane crash are left."

"Only the right answer won't be negated, and only the right answer will be left."

Yes. I would become like light.

I would use this cell phone, this gift from Yukari.

And first, I would definitely reach Alice.

Yes. That came first.


Anger was a wonder drug when it came to curing sorrow.

It was also a poison, but because of it, I could get from day to day while keeping my chest from bursting apart.

And even if it was a poison, as usual I quickly adapted myself to it.

... At this point, I probably had already stopped being "Hatou Manabu."

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