8: Turning Point

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Qualia the Purple

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

Chapter 8: Turning Point

It all began on one night, when I received a call from myself.

The subject of the call was something so ridiculous that I didn't even want to remember it.

However, I do remember heaving a huge sigh of relief at the knowledge that nobody else was listening in on this particular phone conversation.

Sorry for repeating myself, but... no, nevermind.

By the way, at this point I was already attending the Jaunt school, and even though Jaunt had provided a single room in their dorm for me, Alice came over almost every single night.

She usually acted so sharp and chic, and she often backed me up when I got into tight spots from not being able to speak English too well (I mean, sure everyone at this school might be a genius, but the only student here who could speak Japanese was Alice), but when we were alone she would suddenly act much more childish and start being really affectionate towards me.

She had just recently celebrated her thirteenth birthday, and yet the minute I took my eyes off her she would start sucking on her thumb, almost as if she had regressed to a much younger child. It was rather awkward, and quite honestly a bit annoying, but because I still had some use for her I couldn't treat her too cruelly. The situation had filled me with quite a bit of pent up stress.

Jaunt didn't seem to mind even if Alice and I hung out together.

They were still suspicious of me, and a bit wary of Alice (I had already checked this in another world), but maybe they saw the value in my left hand, because they were content to just carefully observe us from the sidelines.

By the way, remember that I couldn't use my cell phone when others were watching (this was ultimately more of a guiding principle though, and there were exceptions to this rule).

But to put that in another way, when I was using my cell phone, I knew that there was nobody watching me.

This was extremely useful for me.

In other words, when I got a call to my left hand today, I knew that I wasn't being watched, and that Alice was really asleep.

I had been trying to keep these calls to a bare minimum, so the fact that I was getting one now might mean that something had happened. I picked up the call.

"Hello? What's wrong?"

The me on the other end spoke in a strangely restless tone.

"... Ah, umm, sorry. Umm, actually, it's not like much has happened, and this is kinda just a personal thing, but I wanted some advice."

"... P-Personal thing? What?"

The other me seemed to ignore my hesitation and just said it straight.

"... Yeah. Umm, well, to tell you the truth...

I think I'm in love."

... The minute those words passed into my ear, I felt my entire mind going blank.

But that was only for a moment, and in the next moment I felt the other me's knowledge and experiences welling up in my already baffled mind.

"... Hey, w-wait a sec... what in the world are you thinking?!"

"So what? What do you care if I fall in love? What's it matter? There are plenty of other worlds where I'm dating Kasoku around now, right?"

"That's not it! You know exactly what's wrong too! I mean... w-wait wait wait. Hold on... no, you're definitely wrong! You're confused! You're just confusing it with motherly instincts or something! I mean... uhh... that's...

You know Alice is a girl, right?"

I really didn't want to know this, but our shared knowledge and memories had already told me all too clearly - told me exactly who this other me had fallen in love with. And told me how sincere her feelings were.

... Uwah, this was bad.

This girl... no, I had fallen in love... with a child, and a girl...

"Got a problem with it?"

"Of course! It's Alice! A kid! A girl! Also, I mean, even if I gave you a millimeter of leeway here... no, I won't even give you that! You pervert! What are you thinking?! What kinds of bad karma are you trying to bring down on all of us?! Anyways! That's definitely not love! It definitely isn't!"

"So, not love... then it's... infatuation?"

"Ugh, you're so annoying! Also, out of all the people you could've fallen in love with, why Alice? Why such an annoying little kid like that?"

"What are you saying?! Alice is really cute!"

Uwah, she's yelling at me now...

I was completely taken aback, but even so the other me continued rattling on and on in complete seriousness.

"What's wrong with Alice?! She's really pretty, and also really brave, and even though she's that small she always tries so hard! And umm, also, well, she always acts so harsh but then she comes and relies on me so much, and that's... well, whatever. In any case, no matter what any other me says to me, I really think this is love. Also, now that I realized I'm in love, I can't just stay silent about it anymore. So, I'm going to... definitely..."

"Don't say it. I already know what you want to say, so just don't say it out loud. Ugh... some of my possibilities are just... terrifying..."

... Was this other me also me?

I mean, certainly, given that these were possibilities and given that there were infinite parallel worlds, then it wasn't entirely out of the question that a me like this would exist somewhere...

I was at a loss for words while the other me muttered vacantly.

"... Can you really not understand this side of me?"

"... Huh? No, this is impossible... or maybe it's not entirely impossible, but it's definitely very unlikely."

"No, that's not what I mean. I mean, looking back, even with Yukari and Tenjou, I get the feeling I've sometimes looked at them kinda like-"

"Go die! Go die you pervert! Don't dirty up my memories!"

"Well, why don't you try to remember? Remember when we met Yukari? Did it really feel that bad when she kissed us all of a sudden?"

"Stop it! That wasn't a kiss! She just ran into me! Also, weren't you the one who mentioned that lots of us are dating Kasoku?! And... I mean... those me's also went all the way too! And those relationships were perfectly fine! In fact, I think they were more than fine... I mean..."

"Yes. But that wasn't you, and that wasn't me. You understand, right? Of course, that was just another possibility in another parallel world, and in a sense it was 'me,' but that doesn't change things, does it?"

... Yes, she was right.

The me who dated Kasoku was "me," but also wasn't me at the same time.

And this pervert I was talking to also wasn't me, but was "me" at the same time.

... Everything will be fine. Just accept it, me. The minute I found another me like this, I already had adapted myself to it, and I still can go on like this... probably. Although it wasn't like I really wanted to go on like this...

I heaved a sigh.

"Anyways, no matter how cute she is... and even leaving aside the fact that she's a girl and a child... that's pretty convenient how you chose someone you were planning to use as a tool as the one you fell in love with."

"What are you saying? I don't think of Alice as a tool. We became friends again, and we decided to try hard and work together."

Right when she said that, I felt my memories refresh... I felt the other me's memories flow into me... and then I understood what she meant.

This other me was different from me.

I had appealed to Alice's conscience and wrung the truth out of her, and after that in order to make use of her I had forgiven her... or at least I pretended to. After that, I had deliberately fostered a relationship in which she would one-sidedly begin to depend on me.

But on the other hand, this other me had told Alice her own feelings, gotten Alice to understand her, and had really become friends with Alice. Such good friends, in fact, that she had fallen in love with Alice.

That's why the Alice in her world did not suck on her thumb like the Alice in this one.

Unlike my Alice, her Alice was proudly self-reliant, and had become a big help to this other me.

... To be honest, I felt rather jealous.

That sounds pretty nice, I admitted to myself.

And it was possible, but maybe the me on that side was a bit closer to accomplishing my-...

"No! No way! That's definitely not true! I'm the calm one here! I'm the one who's gonna be able to get everything done!"

"Do you understand what 'calm' means? I don't mean to impose, but if you're doing bad things like trying to use someone like a tool and manipulate them, then that's only going to come back and bite you later."

"Shut up! So, is that all you wanted to talk about? If so, I'll-"

"Ah, right right. I had something I wanted to ask too. Well, it's about my... or I should say your junior high days..."

Suddenly, the line went dead.

In order to feign calm, I looked around the room as naturally as possible.

I heard a grumpy moan and I turned to look at Alice on my bed.

It seemed I had woken her...

"... Hm? Hatou? Where... where am I right now?"

"My room. You can keep sleeping if you want, you know? It's already night."

Alice had sat up in the bed, and looked like she was mumbling something for a bit before finally lying back down on her side.

After a little while, I heard her speak again, her voice hesitant.

"... Hatou... are you not sleeping yet?"

"Nah... sorry. Just give me a bit more."

"................. I will not force you to, but staying up too late is bad for your skin. You are not young anymore."

"Well, I mean, I'm older than you certainly, but I'm still sixteen, you know."

"That is still not a good reason to stay up late."

Alice almost seemed to be sulking as she said that before she turned her back on me. I felt myself calm down at seeing Alice behaving so cutely, and then I let out a sigh.

Ahh, she certainly acted pretty harsh all the time, but Alice definitely was cute...

But despite that.

To think that I would get called a pervert, and by myself no less.

I stared at my palm and thought about the me I was talking with.

Since junior high, I've always wondered whether these conversations were with one of my possibilities or with another me in a parallel world, but I still didn't have an answer to that question.

Well, either way, I would never talk on the phone with the same me again, so it really didn't make a difference.

-- They say that there is a shortest unit of time, and scientists call that the Planck time.

To be precise, this is the shortest period of time that humans can actually observe, and theoretically, in the period of every Planck time that elapses, our possibilities or our parallel worlds are given form and destroyed. In other words, it might be that during every Planck time, I become probabilistic and my wave function collapses, or I interact with the other parallel worlds... at least, that's what Alice told me after we made up and became friends again.

I approached the bed and watched Alice as she slept on my bed, leaving me just enough space to crawl in if I wanted. I felt my chest fill with affection.

And then I felt myself getting more and more annoyed... annoyed at the me I had just talked to on the phone.

That other me... she was me, and yet she still called such a cute girl like Alice annoying... called her a tool.

Well, I guess I can't get too angry. After all, it sounded like the me in that world hadn't truly made up with Alice.

In other words, this me and that me had divergent pasts...

I realized it then. I realized it after thinking about what Alice had taught me.

That call from before had cut off, but I had shared memories with that other me and had been able to check.

This meant that in all the worlds and possibilities born from now on, all the other me's would realize it too.

I let out another sigh and called out to Alice before softly slipping into bed beside her and hugging her to me in place of a pillow.

It seemed that Alice was still awake, and she moved slightly in response, but she didn't say anything.

I hugged her even tighter, and then muttered inside my heart.

Thank you, Alice. Thank you for teaching me these things, and thank you for helping me.

And... I'm sorry.

I really do love you, but I cannot betray the goal I had set out to fulfill.

"Are you listening?"

"Yeah, I'm listening. Please continue."

"I believe that we might be able to change the past."

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