9: Towards the Past

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Qualia the Purple

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

Chapter 9: Towards the Past

Everything started when I realized that I was treating Alice differently in different worlds.

In this world, I fell in love with Alice.

In another world, I ended up hating Alice.

In another world, I thought of Alice as a tool. Another me didn't feel anything at all about it, while another me was very ambivalent about it and never made up her mind...

These parallel worlds all seemed the same, but they were also different in some places.

Possibilities were meaningful only because they each were different. They existed only to differ from one another.

It was impossible for the same possibility to emerge twice. And so, it was natural there would be differences.

However, exactly where did these differences stem from?

In Alice's case, the answer was obvious. I ended up treating Alice differently depending on how exactly I learned the truth about Yukari's death from her. Had I threatened her? Had I tried to persuade her? Had I tried to appeal to her conscience, or had I forgiven her? This branching out was so patently obvious for me that up until now I had never really questioned it. These worlds had diverged in the past, and that's why different me's now treated Alice differently.

"... But, do you remember what Alice said? Whether we're talking about infinite possibilities or infinite parallel worlds, all these divergences have to happen from here. Quanta don't have well-defined continuous pasts, and they also don't have futures we can predict. All they have is their present, a length of a Planck time isolated from all other points of history."

"Where are you going with this?"

"In other words, my present self can always become a point of divergence. But not only for the future... that divergence can affect the past as well.

Indeed, it would be wrong to say that the past is what determines the differences in our present worlds.

Rather, first we are all given form, and then our differences propagate divergences both into the future and into the past. It would be incorrect to say that first I made up with Alice, and that is why I began to like her. Rather, first there was an alternate world or a different possibility created in which I liked Alice, and in order to realize that possibility, a divergence propagated into the past which then made it so I had made up with Alice. Forget everything you know about how things normally work. No longer does cause produce effect. Rather, effect becomes a guidepost for causality to follow.

Do you remember what I did back in junior high for Yukari's sake?"

"Yes, of course. I wanted to be prepared in case something happened, so I practiced the naginata. And that's definitely helped me out of a lot of tough spots..."

Yes, exactly.

I wanted to be prepared, so I made sure to keep up my training with the naginata. Until I joined Jaunt in the present I had never stopped, and because of that I managed to get out of quite a few difficult situations. If my body weren't in peak physical shape, then I could have never made it this far. However...

"Then tell me this. Where did I learn all this information about quantum mechanics?"

"...... Eh?"

"We stopped, remember? I'm pretty sure you do. After Yukari transferred away from our school, I stopped keeping up with the naginata and just started reading books. For almost a year I didn't practice the naginata at all, and actually got quite a bit out of shape, but right now I'm in such good physical condition that you can't tell I had stopped training at all. So, what happened to that chunk of my past when I was studying?"

"... That's..."

"Back then, what I wanted to prepare for is being able to join Jaunt. That's why I was studying so hard. Remember? Back then, I would've never thought that Yukari would be killed. So there would've been no reason to 'prepare' by toughening my body up. So therein lies a contradiction.

Right now, my body is definitely in good shape...

... Yes, in order to learn the truth behind Yukari's death, I needed a body that could move around easily, a body with a lot of stamina.

So I changed the past.

I abandoned the past in which I had studied hard, and chose the past in which I had continued my physical training.

All of our knowledge is shared, so I never noticed. But this is purely just me not noticing, and I am sure there are various other cases in which I changed the past. Without knowing it. This applies to how we treat Alice as well. Do you understand?"

"... So, all of us can not only create divergences into the future, but also into the past?"

"Yes. In other words, if we can create just the right divergence into the past..."

"We can create a world in which Yukari is still alive right now."

I mentioned before that I had a feeling I was straying from the proper path in some way.

That I was missing something important here.

But even if that were true, there were no other options open to me.

"Do you really think we can do this?"

"Why not? We've studied this, haven't we? And remember, from a physics perspective, the past and the future can be described in identical terms. So if we can change the future, then it would make no sense if the same didn't apply to the past."

"But, if I change the past, then wouldn't there be paradoxes and stuff like that...? I mean, wouldn't I... or all of us... wouldn't we just disappear?"

"I don't think so. Wave function collapse, losing the ability to interact with parallel worlds... those are all irreversible processes. So we can't just suddenly stop existing. And when I get information on the other me's out there... all that is possible because of wave function collapse or this loss of interactivity... I wouldn't be able to get that information any other way. So in that sense, maybe we could consider ourselves some form of quantum teleportation, and that's why we can share our knowledge and experiences... or maybe not. I'm a complete physics novice, after all, so take everything I'm saying with a grain of salt. To be honest, I can't say for sure what will happen. But, there is certainly one thing that I can say right now.

And that certainty is that we decided we would move forwards like light. Right?"

Yes, exactly.

That was precisely what we had decided. We would move forwards like light.

We would try every single possible path, would find the quickest path that would lead us to the right answer, and that right answer would take us to our goal.

I had thought that the path I had been walking was already determined with certainty.

And I had thought that path was the correct one.

But I had been wrong. Just wrong. The path I had launched myself onto had been the wrong one for accomplishing my goal from the very beginning.

I had been so focused on knowing the truth behind Yukari's death and exacting revenge on those who had brought that death about, but those were never anything but secondary goals. But even when I realized what my true goal should've been, I thought the route I was on was already determined with certainty. And yet, that route was only one of many divergent routes; it was only one possibility that was not determined at all, and in fact was a possibility ultimately meant to be discarded.

I thought I had opened the box with the cat inside.

But in reality, that box was still closed. I just had the mere intention to open it. That was all.

This world had not been determined yet.

And if I could not reach the correct answer by following this world, then I had no use for it.

"Yes, that is what I am."

I had never had a choice in the matter to begin with.

I cut off the call and looked towards the bed.

I stared at Alice's face for a little bit as she slept.

I softly approached her face with my own.

And planted a gentle kiss on her eyelid.

Sorry. And thank you, Alice.

I love you, but I have to move forwards. So...


"...... And so,"

"Good luck from here on out, 'me.'"

"Leave it to me."

I cut the phone call off and rubbed the corner of my eyes.

But even so, the tears just wouldn't stop.

I couldn't make heads nor tails of those tears; they were some mixture of both sadness and joy. But as they fell, I quietly looked around the room.

Around my room.

Not the dorm room that Jaunt had prepared for me in America, but at my room back in Japan.

I tried to restrain my rapidly beating heart as I checked my desktop calendar.

Not willing to believe what I saw just yet, I turned on the TV and searched for the news.

I caught a glance of my face reflecting back at me on the television screen, and noticed something was a bit off... I looked for a mirror, and was treated to the sight of a slightly younger version of myself.

The date showing on the TV news program was a date etched into my memory - it was the date I first got a call from myself at night.

The night right before I had uttered those words that had driven Yukari to her ultimate decision.

And of course it was.

If I didn't change the past from this day, then I wouldn't be able to save her.

So... all the other possibilities, and all the other worlds... you can just go and disappear.

Ideally, I had wanted to switch with a me in a world where Yukari was already saved, but it seemed like things wouldn't be that easy (honestly, I couldn't really imagine what a world like that would look like anyways). But I digress.

"I... came back..."

That phone call I had received definitely had been from a future me.

But that had been the first time I had received such a call, and without the right knowledge or experience I had no hope of understanding it.

However, now things were different. I had the knowledge and experiences from infinite worlds at my back.

So now... I could do it.

Not able to hold myself back anymore, I leapt into bed and buried my face into my pillow.

Tears leaked out more and more onto my pillowcase as I rubbed my face into it. I screamed to myself on the inside.

In this world, Yukari was still alive.

And I could save her.

This time, I would definitely do things right.

It was morning the next day.

I rushed to Yukari's house as soon as I could, and for the first time in a long, long, time... for the first time after what felt like eternities across infinite worlds... I was able to see Yukari. I couldn't help myself and pulled her into a hug.

I hugged her tight.

I just couldn't stop myself.

Afterwards, we set off for school and I faced off with Alice and told her what I needed to tell her straight to her face (to be honest, I was pretty shaken when I saw her... but at this point I had memories of hating her, liking her, supporting her, killing her... none of those memories might've seemed very real to me right now, but they still made it hard for me to remain calm). I told her that I would never let Yukari move away.

Yukari's sake? Protecting her? Those words that had echoed through my head back then now rang all the more hollow.

I didn't give Alice a single inch, and even though she upgraded me from a commoner to a "super commoner" (I get the feeling that was a bit of an oxymoron though), I paid her no mind, denouncing Jaunt as a training camp for terrorists while acting like I pitied her for being such a gullible child. And then, I never left Yukari's side for the entire day. I growled like some kind of animal at anybody who tried to interfere with us, and even scared our teacher off. It seemed I had picked up quite an aura after experiencing all those infinite worlds. And by showing my wild side to everyone else through that day, I feel I also did a remarkable amount of damage to the reputation Hatou Manabu had as a "calm and collected girl."

But I honestly couldn't care less about any of that.

Because Yukari was by my side right now.

Because I could pull her into my embrace right now.

This time, I would definitely protect her...

Alice stayed in our class until the end of the third school period, and then returned to Jaunt in low spirits.

And Yukari became a third year student.

She didn't transfer out, but remained by my side.

I had beat Alice back, had made Jaunt retreat, and had truly managed to protect Yukari...

Less than half a year later, Yukari was abducted by somebody and I lost all track of her whereabouts.

By the time I managed to find her again, her body had already grown cold.

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