14: Hatou Manabu

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Qualia the Purple

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

Chapter 14: Hatou Manabu

"I don't really know too much about quantum physics and that kind of stuff... but if my destiny is to die, then that's my own destiny to observe. It belongs to me, just like Gaku-chan's destiny belongs to her... that's how I think things work."

The only things that people could observe and determine were their own fates.

It was nothing more than an abstract argument, without any support from scientific logic or anything like that, and yet I felt something just click in my head.

Ahh, I see.

I thought that if nobody could observe me, then nobody could interfere with me.

And I would be able to protect Yukari.

But perhaps Yukari was right about how she was the only one who could change her fate, and was the only one who could prevent her own death. Maybe there was nobody that had been interfering with me, and everything I had done up until this point was just me trying to force my will onto Yukari.

Yukari's destiny belonged to nobody except for her.

Anybody else trying to change that fate would be guilty of a dreadfully sacrilegious form of hubris.

But that was precisely what I had been trying to do...

After all this time, I finally realized it.

That was where I had been going wrong.

All this time, I had been trying to force my own thoughts onto others.

I said that it was all for Yukari's sake, but I ignored how she felt and just used that reason as my excuse...

An excuse to run away from my own fate which I should've been facing.

From the reality that I couldn't save Yukari.

From my own utter powerlessness...

{{Ahh... I really was an idiot.}}

I shouldn't have been so arrogant and self-righteous by trying to unilaterally protect Yukari. Rather, I should've told her my feelings from the onset.

I shouldn't have forced my desires onto her, but should've explained things properly to her.

I should've apologized for being weak and not being able to protect her. Yes... I was just a commoner, and I didn't really have any extraordinary abilities, but if things continued like this then Yukari might die. But we should try hard to overcome this together, I should've said.

No matter how cruel reality really was, that's what I should have done.

{{I'm sorry, Yukari. You're completely right. I was wrong from the very beginning.}}

"No, I'm sorry too! This is my fault too. It's all because I went and fixed up your hand with a cell phone..."

{{No, that was fine. You didn't do anything wrong. There wasn't anything else you could've done, and there was no way we could've predicted that all this would happen... and in the end, I was the one who decided to become like this.

... Also, it's not like this is all too bad.

Rather, with this kind of "body" I can help you out a lot more. So I'll be fine...}}

Even though I had make a huge mistake.

Even though it was a mistake I could never take back. So... I would stay like this...

"What are you saying?!"

Yukari suddenly yelled out.

"Gaku-chan... I'm really grateful for what you did... but it's painful. To think you have to stay in this form... to think I can't ever hug you anymore..."

Yukari's voice began to mix with tears, and I hurriedly tried to calm her down.

{{H-Hey, come on, don't forget. There's another Hatou Manabu in this world too, right? So-}}

"No! Gaku-chan is Gaku-chan, but Gaku-chan is Gaku-chan! ... Umm... anyways, even if there's another Gaku-chan, for you to have to stay like this... for you to never be able to talk to anyone else... and for this to continue forever and ever, even after I'm gone... I don't want that!

If you sinned, then I think you've been punished more than enough!

... Hey, Gaku-chan. I'm going to try hard. I'm going to try hard and face my own fate so that you don't have to change forms like this. So please... just go back to being you, okay?"

I smiled (if that even made sense in my current form), and responded.

{{Thanks, Yukari. I'm really happy you feel that way.}}

"So then-"

{{But, that's impossible now. I... can't go back anymore. No, that's not it...}}

{{I don't know how to go back.}}

Yukari froze for a moment at my words.

"How to go back...? Umm... can't you just use that cell phone just like you did the first time...?"

I could hear the unease in her question, so I answered as calmly as possible.

{{The one who possessed the cell phone was Hatou Manabu. The one who had used that cell phone as a springboard to end up becoming like that was also Hatou Manabu. And... certainly, I might've been Hatou Manabu at one point. But, right now...}}

I remember that at one point in time, I was the existence that was known as Hatou Manabu.

But what exactly did being Hatou Manabu entail?

What kind of existence had she been?

I didn't know.

And I didn't know how I could go back to being Hatou Manabu.

... Before I realized, I had become something that was completely not myself...

{{I became my mother at one point. I became Tenjou Nanami. I became your mother too. Yes, I could become so many different people, and then my memories became so limitless, so infinite, so mixed up, so changed... and the thirteen billion three-hundred million years I've evolved was such a long time, that now...

I really have stopped knowing what it exactly means to be Hatou Manabu.}}

"Oh. Is that all? If that's all, everything will be fine!"

Yukari's completely nonchalant response jolted me from sinking deeper into my sea of memories.

Yukari laughed and continued.

"I see… I guess I never told you. Gaku-chan, you've really been misunderstanding something. Sorry."


"Hmm... okay. So, let me just ask you something. You said you became a bunch of people, but did you ever become me? Or become Alice-chan?"

{{Eh? Umm... yeah, I guess I never could become you or Alice. But I thought that was just because Alice was a foreigner...}}

"No no, that's not it. I mean... Alice is one thing, but you could become my mom, right? And then you couldn't become me? I'm Japanese, and I'm my mom's daughter, so we're definitely genetically related. So you should've been able to become me... don't you think that's a bit strange?"

Yes... that was certainly strange.

When I had discovered I could become other people, of course I had tried to become Yukari as well.

If I wanted to protect Yukari, then I figured becoming Yukari would be the best way (of course, if I had done that it would've been missing the point quite badly, but at that moment in time I just wanted to exhaust all my options).

However, even though I could become Yukari's mother, I never was able to become her biological daughter.

When I realized that at the time, I didn't really think anything of it and just continued on my way, but...

{{Yukari, do you know why I couldn't become you?}}

Yukari nodded, and gave me a slightly lonely smile.

"... This is just what I think, but... it's probably because you knew it inside. Knew that you would never be able to see what I see...

Knew that nobody else would ever be able to see what I see..."

{{... That's...}}

We were and forever would be parallel lines.

In the end, we would literally never be able to understand each other... and we were able to become friends purely because we acknowledged that. That acknowledgement was the grand foundation on which our relationship was built.

And yes, I knew all this and had accepted it...

"Just like with me, you also knew that you wouldn't be able to understand what the world looked like to a genius like Alice. So you couldn't become either of us... or no, you couldn't impersonate either of us.

Gaku-chan, you know that you never actually became Ten-chan or my mom, right?

You looked just like them, and you stood in the same positions as they did, but you just believed that you had become someone else. What really was happening, though, was that you were just a Gaku-chan who was acting like Ten-chan or mom.

So in reality... you never could understand what the world looked like to Ten-chan or my mom.

Nobody can ever, ever truly share what they see with anybody else.

If anybody could... then I think you should've been able to become me."

I... had only believed that I had become someone else, but I had always just been Hatou Manabu...?

And that's precisely why I could never become Alice or Yukari, two people who I knew from the start I could never be like...?

... Certainly, that was a consistent explanation for why I could never become the two of them. But...

{{But so what? I mean, even if that's true, it still doesn't fix the fact that I can't remember what I was like.}}

I weakly got that out, but Yukari shook her head.

"No no no, you don't have to remember! You're trying too much to come up with this condition and that condition for going back. But in the end, you never could be anyone else. You've always been Gaku-chan! Just like how no matter what I try, I could never become anybody other than me... just like how the world will always look like this to me."

{{... Yukari.}}

"Don't you see? No matter what form you take, Gaku-chan is still Gaku-chan. Don't go and think so hard about remembering stuff that doesn't matter. Just feel it..."

Yukari stopped for a moment, thought, and then continued with a bit of red in her cheeks.

"Hey, Gaku-chan... do you remember how we met back in junior high? Back in that hallway?"

{{Of course. I was walking down the hall and you suddenly came running at me and ended up stealing my first kiss away from me.}}

"Wah, wah, but I didn't know you were going to come back around the corner so suddenly! That was my first kiss too..."

After she said that, Yukari dropped her gaze to the plastic model robot in her hands with slightly flushed cheeks.

She fixed her gaze onto the robot and smiled.

"Hey, Gaku-chan...

You know, I never needed a god who would be able to grant my wishes.

No, I just needed a friend who could wish with me together."

"So let's meet one more time?"

Yukari softly kissed the robot in her palm.

And I suddenly felt something in my head that shouldn't have existed.

In my body that shouldn't have existed, in my arms that shouldn't have existed...

The feelings from back then came washing back over me.

I remembered.

Yes, we had met back then.

That had been the start of everything.

What had left the deepest impression on me had not been the feeling of Yukari's lips, but the feeling of having her in my arms. I remember the warmth. I remember how soft she felt. My mind was in complete disarray, and yet perfectly calm at the same time. I remember my heart going pitter patter as I felt Yukari's stiffened form with my entire body, wondering what she would do once she regained her senses. Pitter patter. I felt a strange feeling envelope me, as if this was the start of something, as if we were the only two people in the middle of this vast, open world.

That was the tale of our first meeting.

It was a meeting just between the two of us. We had been alone in that place.

And miraculously, against astronomical odds, we had managed to find each other in this vast, open world.

No matter how many people there were in the world, no matter how many times they embraced each other, kissed each other...

That meeting and that kiss belonged to just the two of us.

We embraced and our eyes met each other.

And what I felt... that was a qualia of purple that belonged only to me.

A treasure that belonged only to Hatou Manabu.

And thus... Marii Yukari and Hatou Manabu met each other.

Ah, I see, I thought as I fell through the infinite darkness.

When I look at an apple, an infinite other me's would also be similarly looking at an apple.

Those infinite me's in infinite worlds look at the same apple and feel the same thing. Think the same thing. As all of us simultaneously fixate on that apple, one part of our brains resonate in harmony, mutually interfere, and all that brings an image of an apple into focus in our heads like some kind of hologram.

That was qualia.

I was an infinite number of thin films stacked together, and qualia was the one string that threaded and bound all these me's together.

No matter how many me's in how many worlds there were, qualia was the one piece of proof that all of those me's were none other than me.

It was a sensation that only I could understand, that I could never share with a friend no matter how close she was. It was the ultimate proof that I was me.

I didn't need to remember anything.

The things I felt were things that only I could feel.

I was not anybody else. I was just me, just the one and only Hatou Manabu.

And qualia was the final proof of that.

The world around me swelled with white light.

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